All entries for October 2016

October 29, 2016

Shireen Hassim at Warwick: New Politics of Intersectionalilty

by Anni Piiroinen, based on a talk by Shireen Hassim at the University of Warwick on 27 October 2016, 'Intersectionality: Making Sense of Difference in African Debates'

dear history

Intersectionality is the word of today. It has become something of a traveling concept that has been applied with ease to diverse contexts. Coined in the United States originally, it has spread globally, including to South Africa, where it occupies a central stage in political conversations of the moment. In South Africa the concept became hugely popular last year with protests of Rhodes Must Fall, a campaign demanding the removal of a statue of the colonialist Cecil Rhodes from the campus of University of Cape Town. The concept has escaped the confines of academia and extended its reach into popular culture, where it has signalled a new wave in emancipatory politics.

Intersectionality refers to the way different identity categories, such as gender, class, race, age and sexuality, overlap, and how this creates particular forms of oppression that cannot be properly understood or addressed without looking at them in connection to each other. For instance, the oppression experienced by a black working-class woman is likely to be very different from that experienced by a white middle-class woman. Indeed, originally the call for intersectionality was a reaction against the white sisterhood feminism of the 1970s. The term was coined by an African-American legal scholar Kimberlé Crenshaw in 1989 as an attempt to solve a particular legal problem. The case Crenshaw was dealing with was Degraffenreid v. General Motors, where a group of black female employees sued General Motors for racial and gender discrimination. The problem they faced was that the case did not fit the single ground principle of the American justice system, according to which a person had to base their case on only one form of discrimination. The women of Degraffenreid v. General Motors therefore had to state that they were discriminated against either for their gender or for their race, not both. This obscured the interaction of these forms of discrimination and denied the particularly vulnerable position of African-American women. In Hassim’s words, it was a case of 'legal idiocy'.

In South-Africa intersectionality was originally used as a critique of black leftist politics as well as white feminism. The former had focused largely on black men’s experiences in postcolonial times and the mission of restoring black manhood. Attention was given to black heterosexual men, while others were pushed to the margins. Indeed, black solidarity was developed by restoring patriarchy and reasserting black men’s control over women. In terms of feminism, South African intersectionality attacked the Angelina Jolie-esque white woman savior feminism which saw black women as victims.

Intersectionality thus allows us to see types of oppression and power that would not be visible otherwise, and makes space for new forms of political organisation. However, there are several caveats to the concept as well. Sometimes its critical potential has been diluted by reducing it to an appreciation of pluralism and diversity. This usage, which has been particularly prevalent in the United States, ignores the importance of power structures and leaves them unquestioned. The difficulty of talking about structural power is apparent in the way class is often left out of analyses of intersectionality. This is perhaps connected neoliberalism’s crisis of representation, whereby political representation is delinked from economic organisation of society. In new social movements, political subjectivity is more individualised than it was in traditional collective political identities. These changes challenge familiar ideas about class and make it more difficult to construct a political project around a shared class identity. Another potential risk of intersectionality is creating such high levels of specificity that issues may be individualised, making it difficult to see what people have in common anymore and organise around those commonalities. The intersection may indeed become very 'crowded' as an increasing amount of axes of oppression are included.

Despite these risks, intersectionality is a deeply interesting and exciting feature of contemporary politics, articulated by young the breakers of traditional boundaries. Whether it manages to effectively challenge existing power structures remains to be seen. The statue of Cecil Rhodes may have come down, but other structures of power, more invisible in nature, are still intact.

Image source: African Gender Institute, available at: <>, licence available at: <>.

October 25, 2016

From Millennium to Sustainable Development Goals

by Edouard Leonet, based on seminar discussions of 'Theories and Issues in International Development'

Branded as the ‘world’s biggest promise’, ironically enough the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) have disappointed many. In a rush to make sure the badge of human development remained on the UN bulletin boards, the MDGs were put forward by a small group of bureaucrats from the UN in the 1990s. With human development as its key objective, the international community agreed on unanimously working towards eight broad goals that centered on eradicating poverty, hunger, and improving basic living conditions. The purpose of the MDGs was to bring the international community together to support countries embarking upon a journey towards a mutually agreed upon definition of development.


The feasibility and practicality of the MDGs has long been questioned and after their deadline in 2015 it has largely been agreed that the MDGs failed to elicit any statistically significant results on the global level. However, several sources also suggest that the MDGs have made a difference. Most of the sources put forward by the UN often adopt a rather positive and optimistic tone regarding the end products of these goals. Agreeably, success stories from the cult of the MDGs have emerged, and as indicated by some statistics these successes are record breaking.

However, taking a closer look at the MDGs allows us to see that even though global statistics and averages may make these goals seem feasible, on a national and local level their effect has largely been unequal and variegated. The MDGs put forward a very generalized view of development needs as perceived by the Global North and one the main reasons of their failure could be attributed to the fact that they did not take into consideration how each country has its own distinct economy, society and history applying to different development needs and priorities. More so, development strategies under this program are not cognizant of the various socio-cultural and historical sensitivities of different countries, which largely contribute to the success or failure of the strategy. Additionally, when speaking of the utility of the MDGs one must take in to account the fact that although the sound of eradicating global poverty sounds rather honorable and gallant, there is a rich political underbelly to this form of combatting underdevelopment. In the midst of such shortcomings the entire plan was also handicapped by flawed and static methodologies of data collection and indicators.

Another reason put forward for the failure of the MDG’s was that their achievement was focused on inputs as opposed to outputs. Nations were too preoccupied with aid and donor targets that what missed were any real observations of the results that this was providing. The actualization of development was overshadowed by the commitment to development and as such, the inputs to the MDG’s were much more obvious than any outputs.

The MDGs don’t necessarily measure what is of crucial importance. By way of illustration we can use goal number 2: “achieve universal primary education”. The way they measured the success of this goal is by looking at the enrollments rates. This will allow you to know how many boys and girls have attended school but what this goal has failed to do is to go deeper into the problem and possibly look at the quality of learning. There is no point of having 100 % enrollments rate when millions of children go through school but come out without basic literacy or numeracy skills. Education should only be judged by what students learn, not by attendance.

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) is much more of a universal set of goals, to be achieved by every nation. While the MDGs disproportionately focused on making changes in the developing world, many of the MDGs set out objectives that both the developing and the developing world should strive to achieve. Most strikingly, the SDGs are a bigger set of goals, with the number of objectives rising from eight to seventeen. These have also been broken down into manageable goals, so while there are more overall, the targets to be achieved are more specific and contextual. The reformulation of what changes need to be seen in the world have led to the inclusion of a number of environmentally focused SDGs and also a more socially focused set of goals that tackle all aspects of development necessary to achieve success. Overall, the Sustainable Development Goals offer us a better-rounded set of goals that encapsulate all of what is needed to ensure sustained development globally.



As more countries signed up to get behind the SDGs, there appears to be more unity in reaching a successful level of change than was evident with the MDGs. With more countries backing the goals, we can be optimistic that a greater effort can be made to reach the targets set out. It has also become clear through the SDGs that these goals cannot be neatly compartmentalized – all are interlinked and we cannot talk about some without reference to the others. These interactions and connections have led to more collaboration between institutions working in each area, which is a definite move in the right direction to produce meaningful change. However, the specific targets of the SDGs are low, so while they may work in the sense of achieving their targets, the actual impact may be difficult to see in practice. While we are hopeful for the future, only time will tell whether the Sustainable Development Goals will make a meaningful change to the world.

1) Image source: UN City Copenhagen,

2) Image source: UN,

Profile: Shirin M. Rai

shirin.jpgI studied in Delhi University and then came to the UK on a Cambridge-Nehru Scholarship to do my PhD on Chinese politics. After my doctoral work, I came to Warwick to teach a course of ‘Comparative Communist Systems’. I started the MA in International Development (first known as Globalisation and Development) in 2002 and it has been flourishing since then. I have had the privilege to teach students from many countries and from different social and cultural background, which brings a richness of experience to our classrooms.

As far as my research goes, my current work has three strands: feminist international political economy, gender and political institutions and politics and performance. On feminist political economy I work on issues of the everyday – work, space and violence. I recently developed a concept of depletion through social reproduction (IfJP, 2014) through which I analyse the costs of doing social reproductive work, how this might be measured and transformed. On political institutions, I have worked with the UN on gender mainstreaming, UNDP on women’s leadership in local politics and am currently writing a book on women in the Indian parliament. I have also published several articles and two edited collections on performance and/or politics where I explore how performance in and of institutional and informal politics are co-constitutive (Routledge, 2015; Palgrave 2014).

In my spare time (?!!) I like reading literature and listening to music, watching films and going to theatre and of course spending time with my family and friends.

Welcome to Think Development

Hello everyone, and welcome. You are reading the first post of the new Think Development blog of Warwick Global Development Society. This will be a platform for a range of material dealing with questions of global development. We seek to ask questions, analyse, argue, wonder and tell stories, sometimes with a rigorous academic approach, other times through a more personal, subjective lense. Some of the content will be closely connected to the MA module we in the editorial group are taking, ‘Theories and Issues in International Development’, taught by Dr Shirin Rai in the University of Warwick. What all the contributions of this blog will have in common is a passionate and critical approach to development in its many forms. A lot of the material will be produced by members of the editorial group but we are eagerly looking for contributions by anyone. If you have a text or an idea you think would be great for the blog, please contact us at

Edouard Leonet

Edouard Leonet

My interest in international development has been influenced by various field experiences I accomplished in Ethiopia and Bangladesh during the last few years. Experiencing countries with such extreme social, cultural and economic disparities has expanded my horizon in a variety of ways but more importantly has made me strongly aware of the different rates of development between vastly contrasting countries. As a person I have always been particularly drawn to the social aspects of business and poverty alleviation, spanning concepts such as social entrepreneurship and artisanal production.

Anni Piiroinen

Anni Piiroinen

My background is in political science, and I'm interested looking at development as an inherently political process, whose political nature is often denied through discourses of depoliticisation. I'm particularly drawn to issues of inequality and environmental degradation, especially climate change, and how they challenge us to question conventional assumptions about development.

Maria Olsen

Maria Olsen

I'm taking my MA in International Development because I am eager to learn more about development in general, mainly referring to a broader insight to social, economical, political and environmental components of development. My particular area of interest is economic policy reform and aid effectiveness, linked to the broader question if it is possible to make a positive sustainable change of the livelihoods of the people of developing nations.

Aistė JotautytėAistė Jotautytė

I study International Security. Critical Security theories was what first got me thinking about international development. For me these are two very interrelated fields, often interchangeably used words and both being means to a better world. My specific areas of interest are critical development theories, gender and postcolonialism.

Sailja Jain

Sailja Jain

Belonging to a developing nation where economic conditions are poor, developmental issues are of utmost importance to me. The sense of fundamental unfairness encouraged an interest in development in college. I believe that international development will help me gain insight to the political, social and economical aspect of development in a developing nation. To me, a career in development means that I have the chance to build skills in a variety of fields and sectors and apply them hands-on, in an environment that is constantly changing and evolving.

Madiha Shekhani

Madiha Shekhani

International Development as a program intrigued me because of the opportunity it provides to critically deconsruct the complex concept of developmentt. Particulary, my interest lies in the link between politics and development, and the dynamics of this relationship within different stratas - beginning from the international and national, all the way to communities and households. Additionally, I am also interested in examining the largely imperial undertones that development theory and practice possess.

Upcoming events

October 2016

Mo Tu We Th Fr Sa Su
|  Today  | Nov
               1 2
3 4 5 6 7 8 9
10 11 12 13 14 15 16
17 18 19 20 21 22 23
24 25 26 27 28 29 30

Editorial team

Edouard Leonet
Anni Piiroinen
Sailja Jain
Maria Elena Olsen
Madiha Shekhani
Aistė Jotautytė

If you wish to contribute to the blog, please contact We are always looking for articles, essays, photos and videos dealing with different aspects of global development.

Search this blog


Most recent comments

  • Thanks for the article. Very interesting insight to value chains and how they work today. Keen to se… by Juha Piiroinen on this entry
  • Really insightful perspective Sylvia. Aspects and traces of Orientalism and western superiority in f… by Madiha Shekhani on this entry
  • Hi Anni, thank you for the question, it's actually quite important to highlight what you've mentione… by Madiha Shekhani on this entry
  • You mention the internalisation of inequality by women workers, but hasn't there also been instances… by Anni on this entry
  • S flink du e! Bravo by Kristine on this entry

Blog archive

Not signed in
Sign in

Powered by BlogBuilder