Rethinking Intersectionality in the UK :

Theoretical, contemporary and Comparative Perspectives


Intersectionality may be broadly defined as the overlapping of several processes of discrimination on the grounds of gender, race and class resulting in distinct forms of marginalisation, disadvantage and inequality.

In the post-war period, immigrant groups in the UK, the vast majority of whom initially came from the New Commonwealth, were overwhelmingly made up of males. Immigrant groups became much more feminised in the 1960s and 1970s, as a result of the acceleration of family reunion.

In some groups, South Asian ones notably, certain issues related to gender equality then came to the fore (e.g. girl’s education; women’s participation in the labour market; domestic violence; forced marriages etc.). Depending on the period of arrival and the type of migration (family reunion; economic migration; asylum; irregular migration), some of these women found themselves relegated to the margins of the labour market and British society at large: working e.g. as unpaid shop assistants in their husbands’ cornershops; carers in residential homes or cleaning staff in the hotel and catering industry. This pattern also applies by and large to women who entered the UK as refugees or asylum seekers in the 1990s and 2000s (Somalis and Kurds, notably).

In recent years or indeed decades, the neoliberal logic embraced by successive governments (e.g. deregulation of the labour market; austerity policies combined with increasingly drastic immigration and asylum rules) have aggravated the predicament of these women. An intersectional approach to understanding their situation requires that we examine the ways in which their situation cannot be reduced either to their gender, migration history, or socioeconomic status. It also suggests that we examine the ways in which policies targeting racism or sexism fail to address the needs of women who experience sexism within their ethnic communities and racism within feminist groups.

It will be the aim of this one-day conference to conceptualise further, investigate and document the relevance of intersectionality in contemporary Britain, in relation to e.g. women’s social and / or economic position; their involvement in or their connection with local or national politics or feminist groups. The weight of patriarchal constraints within certain communities and the role of the State in perpetuating that situation constitute possible angles for participants. Comparisons with other European or Western countries are welcome.