Understanding Intersectionality

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Course TypeCourse CodeNo. Of Credits
Foundation CoreSDE2SD2124

Semester and Year Offered: Semester 2 (Winter)

Course Coordinator and Team: Venugopal Maddipati

Email of course coordinator:

Pre-requisites: None

Course Objectives/Description:

Intersectionality emerged as a theme in social science and humanities thinking in response to normative conceptions of social justice in identity politics. If, traditionally, race, gender, caste, and class were presented as normative axes along which exclusion and marginalization manifested themselves in society, the intersectional approach towards exclusion and marginalization entailed taking into account intra-group differences. Intersectionality took into account the manner in which exclusion and marginalization were also imbedded within identity categories, specifically in the manner in which specific identities were themselves always already riven and co-instituted by their cross-correspondence with other identity categories. Given how Social Design as a field approaches social inclusion as a way of expanding the domain of service-oriented, systems-oriented and infrastructure-oriented design-thinking, taking an intersectional approach towards recognizing patterns of exclusion becomes vital for the Social Designer. Since Design presents itself as a language of solutions to complex social problems, relying on an intersectional approach enables Social Designers to recognize the complex, layered and interconnected social circumstances which give rise to problems in the first place. Approaching problems parametrically, that is, by viewing how different parameters converge or intersect differently in different circumstances to disempower people, designers can also think of solutions to problems parametrically, by emphasizing the sheer diversity of ways in which people can be empowered.

Course Outcomes:

On successful completion of this course students will be able to:

  1. Write essays and reports, with a clear structure, such as a thesis, and with a careful appraisal of grammar and punctuation.
  2. Think critically about one’s own intersectional privileges and approach design-practice in the public realm or with communities reflexively. Students will have a clearer sense of power-dynamics and power-hierarchies in the field as they undertake project work within it.
  3. Incorporate a more inclusive framework while imagining solutions for problems in the arena of service design, product design and systems design.

Brief description of modules/ Main modules:

The course begins with the instructor providing students with a few readymade personas belonging to specific identity categories. For example, a persona would be a site for the intersection between a specific gender identity, a specific occupational group/caste identity, a specific economic identity, a specific race identity, etc. The instructor will subsequently present a social situation or problem in a specific site in the city of Delhi, to the students. Different students will subsequently be encouraged to enact the different personas that have been assigned to them, and respond to the problem or situation. The expectation from such an exercise is that the students, while responding to problems from the vantages of specific personas, will begin to observe how intersecting identity categories can begin to have a bearing on one’s comportment in any given situation.

The course will subsequently, over the course of three to four classroom sessions, explore the theme of intersectionality, through readings of the work of such writers as Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw and Sharmila Rege and Anandhi S. These classes will:

  1. Initially be devoted to exploring such categories as Caste, Class, Gender, Race and Sexualityindependently.
  2. Subsequently be devoted to exploring how these identity categories intersect in the context of
  3. specific personas.

The next Four classes will be devoted to understanding how intersectionality between identity categories assumes different saliencies in rural and urban settings. In this context, the students will be encouraged to

  1. Visit a village, and explore how, frequently, caste identity is spatialized. For instance, caste identity is often spatialized, with specific groups occupying specific locations within the space of the village, based upon hierarchical orderings of caste identity. The students will also be expected to observe how disempowerment also transpires from within identity categories, on account of intersectionality. For instance, by giving importance to gender as an identity category, the students may be in a position to observe how women within specific identity categories facegreater marginalization (spatial or otherwise) than men.
  2. Visit a city space, or study the map of a city, and explore how class identities are spatialized. Moreover, students will also be expected to observe how disempowerment also transpires from within such identity categories as class identity, on account of intersectionality. The students will also reflect on how caste, as an identity category, or even religion as an identity category, can come to intersect with class as an identity category, in urban situations. The course will then move towards identifying a specific site of study in a village or a city, with an emphasis on a few socially salient themes such as Education, Sanitation, Cultural forms (such as dance, music, architecture or craft practice), employment, financial services, access to resources,infrastructure etc. Individual students will be asked to choose individual themes, and to subsequently engage in qualitative or quantitative research on those themes, based on a few parameters (identity categories) such as caste, class, gender, sexuality etc. The students will be expected to keep in mind at least three identity categories while engaging in research (the students can choose the categories), so as to explore how their data responds to an intersectional analysis.

The course will end with the students reflecting on their data, and writing a project summary/report and/or prepare a presentation on A2 size sheets using photographs and other visual aids. This report/presentation will constitute a reflection on how the activity of design must respond to the manner in which disempowerment is a nuanced phenomenon, in which the intersection between identity categories, compounds problems for specific individuals or social groups.

Assessment Details with weights:



Date/period in which Assessment will take place

Weightage in %


Assignment 1

Mid February



Assignment 2

Early March



Assignment 3

End March




End April



Reading List:

  1. “Gender, Caste and the Politics of Intersectionality in Rural Tamil Nadu Review of Women's Studies.” Anandhi S Vol. 48, Issue No. 18, 04 May, 2013
  2. “Dalit Women Talk Differently-A Critique of Difference and Towards a Dalit Feminist Standpoint Position.” Sharmila Rege.
  3. Writing Caste, Writing Gender: Reading Dalit Women’s Testimonies. Sharmila Rege.
  4. Mapping the Margins: Intersectionality,. Identity Politics, and Violence Against. Women of Color. Kimberle Crenshaw

Additional Reference: