Intersectionality in gender and development practice: A useful tool or blunt-edged sword?

Prof. Kuntala Lahiri-Dutt1

1The Australian National University (ANU), Canberra, Australia


Contemporary Gender and Development (GAD) analytical frameworks have predominantly been based on a sex-based binary interpretation. Intersectionality, described as a ‘The greatest contribution [of feminist theorists] to social science as a whole’ (Belkhir, 2009:3), is becoming increasingly popular in GAD practice, and there is increasing mention of the term in the field of development. This development is clearly related to the failure of gender analytical frameworks and tools to go beyond sex-based binary to explore complex gendered identities. Such widespread invocation of the term raises the question: does intersectionality offer to GAD practitioners a reliable and replicable analytical tool that can be used in interpreting complex fieldwork data on gendered lives? Despite the popularity of intersectionality as a theoretical, methodological, and research paradigm, the increasing complexity in the scholarship of identity and difference is at odds with the use of the concept as a ‘handy tool’ that gender practitioners seek in their work on development. This presentation will discuss some of these initiatives, underline the potential pitfalls of diluting the theory, and the implications of such ‘practical’ translations of complex feminist theories in critical geographies of development.


Kuntala Lahiri-Dutt is a Professor at the Crawford School of Public Policy, Australian National University, where she teaches gender and development in the Masters in Applied Anthropology and Participatory Development and Environmental Management and Development programs. Kuntala has written extensively on women/gender and the environment in Asian countries, focusing on water, agriculture and extractive resources.

More information can be gleaned from her staffpage:

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