• 284 pages
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  • EAN: 9781439916513
  • Publication: Aug 2020
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  • Publication: Nov 2018
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  • Publication: Nov 2018

Undermining Intersectionality

The Perils of Powerblind Feminism

Barbara Tomlinson

In this provocative book, esteemed scholar Barbara Tomlinson asserts that intersectionality—the idea that categories such as gender, race, and class create overlapping systems of oppression—is consistently misinterpreted in feminist argument. Despite becoming a central theme in feminist scholarship and activism, Tomlinson believes dominant feminism has failed to fully understand the concept.

Undermining Intersectionality reveals that this apparent paradox is the result of the disturbing racial politics underlying more than two decades of widely-cited critiques of intersectionality produced by prominent white feminist scholars who have been insufficiently attentive to racial dynamics. As such, feminist critiques of intersectionality repeatedly reinforce racial hierarchies, undermining academic feminism’s supposed commitment to social justice. Tomlinson offers a persuasive analysis of the rhetorics and conventions of argument used in these critiques to demonstrate their systematic reliance on “powerblind” discursive practices.

Undermining Intersectionality concludes by presenting suggestions about concrete steps feminist researchers, readers, authors, and editors can take to promote more productive and principled engagements with intersectional thinking.


Undermining Intersectionality is an original and important text that provides a solid conceptual and historical account and a thorough theoretical analysis of the racial and gender politics that animate a broad swath of arguments aimed at the political work of intersectionality. Tomlinson reveals the key means by which summaries and analyses by some feminists work to undo, misrepresent, or diminish the social justice and activist insights that intersectionality brought forth. This approach is both important and new; it allows readers to grasp in much greater depth the complex ways intersectionality has been challenged or marginalized—often unjustly—by means that confirm unconscious racial ideologies.”
Tricia Rose, Director of the Center for the Study of Race and Ethnicity in America and Chancellor’s Professor of Africana Studies at Brown University and author of The Hip Hop Wars: What We Talk about When We Talk about Hip Hop—and Why It Matters

Undermining Intersectionality analyzes how intersectionality has functioned at the scene of different modes of argumentation. Tomlinson responds to and engages the major criticisms of intersectionality—and she does so thoughtfully and with rigor and specific attributions. Her characterization of intersectionality as mid-level theory is particularly powerful. Arguably the most sustained response to criticisms of intersectionality to date, this book is essential reading for anyone interested in the ongoing debates.
Devon Carbado, The Honorable Harry Pregerson Professor of Law at UCLA School of Law and co-author of Acting White? Rethinking Race in “Post-Racial” America

"(Tomlinson) lays down a forceful defense of intersectionality’s contribution to knowledge and of women of color’s ownership over 'true' intersectional thought. Tomlinson meticulously analyzes popular feminist discussions about intersectionality and their discursive strategies, finding that the most vocal critics tend to neglect any meaningful engagement with intersectionality’s original texts, the racial studies literature, the history of European imperialism and slavery, or their own positionalities.... Much of Undermining Intersectionality is such a corrective, laying bare the misinterpretations, misquotes, misreadings, and mistakes that white feminism makes in impressive detail.... Undermining Intersectionality fastens the reins and redirects the ship." — Women's Review of Books

"(A) timely intervention. The author carefully and intelligibly guides the reader through discussions of the deficiencies, normative predispositions, and consequences of extant efforts to suppress Black feminist political thought."
— Journal of Women, Politics, and Policy

About the Author(s)

Barbara Tomlinson is Research Professor Emeritus of Feminist Studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara, where she received the Academic Senate Distinguished Teaching Award. She is the author of Authors on Writing: Metaphors and Intellectual Labor; Feminism and Affect at the Scene of Argument: Beyond the Trope of the Angry Feminist; and (with George Lipsitz) Insubordinate Spaces: Improvisation and Accompaniment for Social Justice.