Intersectionality is a theory that seeks to examine the relationships among multiple dimensions of discrimination and the ways in which these various socially and culturally constructed categories interact to manifest themselves as inequality in society. Intersectionality holds that the classical models of [..],Intersectionality">
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Intersectionality


    Intersectionality is a theory that seeks to examine the relationships among multiple dimensions of discrimination and the ways in which these various socially and culturally constructed categories interact to manifest themselves as inequality in society Intersectionality holds that the classical models of oppression within society such as those based on race/ ethnicity; gender religion nationality sexuality class or disability do not act independent of one another; instead these forms of oppression interrelate creating a system of oppression that reflects the “intersection” of multiple forms of discrimination
    Intersectionality is an important paradigm for sociological and cultural studies but there have been many challenges involved in utilizing it to its fullest capacityDifficulties arise due to the many complexities involved in making “multidimensional conceptualizations” that explain the way in which socially constructed categories of differentiation interact to create a social hierarchyFor example intersectionality holds that knowing a woman lives in a sexist society is insufficient information to describe her experience; instead it is also necessary to know her race her sexual orientation her class etc The theory of intersectionality also suggests that discrete forms and expressions of oppression actually shape and are shaped by, one another Thus in order to fully understand the racialization of oppressed groups in the United States one must investigate and examine the ways in which racializing structures social processes and social representations (or ideas purporting to represent groups and group members in society) are shaped by gender class sexuality etc While the theory began as an exploration of the oppression of women within society today sociologists strive to apply it not only to woman but to discussions of all peoples

    Historical Background of Intersectionality

    A comprehensive historical study of the development of the Intersectionality theory has yet to be documentedFrom the little documentation that exists it is understood that the concept of intersectionality came to the forefront of sociological circles in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s in conjunction with the multiracial feminist movementIt came as part of a critique of radical feminism that had developed in the late 60’s known as the “re-visionist feminist theory”This re-visionist feminist theory “challenged the notion that ‘gender’ was the primary factor determining a woman’s fate” (XI) The movement led by women of color disputed the idea that women were a homogeneous category sharing essentially the same life experiences This argument stemmed from the realization that white middle class women did not serve as an accurate representation of the feminist movement as a wholeRecognizing that the forms of oppression experienced by white middle class women were different than those experienced by black poor or disabled women feminists sought to understand the ways in which gender race and class combined to “determine the female destiny”(xii)Leslie McCall a leading intersectionality theorist argues that the introduction of the intersectionality theory was vital to sociology claiming that before its development there was little research in existence that addressed specifically the experiences of people who are subjected multiple forms of subordination within society
    The term also has historical and theoretical links to the concept of "simultaneity" advanced during the 1970s by members of the Combahee River Collective in Massachusetts Members of this group articulated an awareness that their lives--and their forms of resistance to oppression--were profoundly shaped by the simultaneous influences of race class gender and sexuality Thus the women of the Combahee River Collective advanced an understanding of African American experiences that challenged analyses emerging from Black and male-centered social movements; as well as those from mainstream White middle-class heterosexual feminists

    Intersectionality Theory and Feminist Thought

    The term “Intersectionality Theory” was first coined by Kimberle Crenshaw in the 1970’s but gained prominence in the 1990’s when sociologist Patricia Hill Collins reintroduced the idea as part of her discussion on black feminismThis term replaced her previously coined expression “ black feminist thought “and increased the general applicability of her theory from African American women to all women (Mann and Huffman 2005 pg. 61)Much like her predecessor Crenshaw Collins argued that cultural patterns of oppression are not only interrelated but are bound together and influenced by the intersectional systems of society such as race gender class and ethnicity (Collins 2000 pg. 42)According to feminists of color experiences of class gender sexuality etc cannot be adequately understood unless the influences of racialization are carefully consideredFeminists argue that an understanding of intersectionality is a vital element to gaining political and social equality and improving our democratic systemCollins' theory is one of particular interest because it represents the sociological crossroads between modern and post-modern feminist thought

    The Complexities of Intersectionality

    There are three different approaches that can be taken in the study of intersectionalityLeslie McCall a leading intersectionality theorist explains that these perspectives are defined primarily by the way they “use analytical categoriesto explore the complexityof intersectionality in sociallife”The three approaches are anticategorical complexity intracategorical complexity and intercategorical complexity and they serve to represent the broad spectrum of current methodologies that are used to better understand and apply the intersectionality theory
    Anticategorical Complexity:The anti-categorical approach is based on the deconstruction of categorical divisionsIt argues that social categories are an arbitrary construction of history and language and that they contribute little to understanding the ways in which people experience society Furthermore the anticategorical approach states that “inequalities are rooted in relationshipsthat are defined byrace class sexuality andgender” so therefore the only way to eliminate oppression in society is to eliminate the categories used to section people into differing groupsThis analysis claims that society is to complex to be reduced down into finite categories and instead recognized the need for a holistic approach in understanding intersectionality
    Intercategorical (aka Categorical) Complexity:The intercategorical approach to intersectionality begins by addressing the fact that inequality indeed exists within society and it uses this as the basis of its discussion of intersectionalityAccording to intercategorical complexity “Theconcern is with thenature of the relationshipsamong social groups andimportantly how they arechanging”Proponents of this methodology use existing categorical distinctions to document inequality across multiple dimensions and measure its change over time
    Intracategorical Complexity:The intracategorical approach can best be explained as the mid point between the anticategorical and intercategorical approachesIt recognizes the apparent shortcomings of existing social categories and it questions the way in which they draw boundaries of distinction Yet this approach does not completely reject the importance of categories like the anticategorical approach; rather the intracategorical approach recognizes the relevance of social categories to the understanding of the modern social experience Moreover it attempts to reconcile these contrasting views by focusing on people who cross the boundaries of constructed categories in an effort to understand the ways in which the complexity and intersectionality the human experience unfold

    Applications of Intersectionality

    Intersectionality and Social Work

    In the field of social work proponents of intersectionality hold that unless service providers take intersectionality into account they will be of less use and may in fact be detrimental for various segments of the population Thus service providers have an obligation to be aware of the seemingly unrelated factors that can impact a person's life experience and response to the service and to adapt their methods accordingly For instance according to intersectionality domestic violence counselors in the United States that urged all women to report their abusers to police would be of little use to women of color due to the history of racially-motivated police brutality in that population and those counselors should therefore develop a different approach appropriate for women of color

    Intersectionality and the Labor Market

    The intersectionality of race and gender has been shown to have a visible impact on the labor market“Sociological research clearly shows that accounting for education experience and skill does not fully explain significant differences in labor market outcomes (506 Browne)”The three main domains on which we see the impact of intersectionality are wages discrimination and domestic laborMost studies have shown that people who fall into the bottom of the social hierarchy in terms of race or gender are more likely to receive lower wages to be subjected to stereotypes and discriminated against or be hired for exploitive domestic positionsThrough the study of the labor market and intersectionality we gain a better understand of economic inequalities and the implications of the multidimensional impact of race gender on social status within society
    Intersectionality is a paradigmatic approach to sociology cultural studies and other social sciences especially as applied to activism and social work Intersectionality holds that the classical models of oppression within a society such as those based on race/ethnicity; gender religion sexuality class disability and other markers of difference do not act independent of one another Instead these forms of oppression interrelate based on which markers apply to a given individual and/or oppressed social group and derives its name from this intersection of forms of oppression) Intersectionality thus holds that knowing for example that a woman lives in a sexist society is insufficient information to describe her experience; instead it is also necessary to know her race her sexual orientation her class etc The theory of intersectionality also holds that discrete forms or expressions of oppression actually shape and are shaped by, one another Thus for an example in order to fully understand the racialization of oppressed groups in the United States one must investigate and examine the ways in which racializing structures social processes and social representations (or ideas purporting to represent groups and group members in society) are shaped by gender class sexuality etc In turn according to feminists of color--who have been the major contributors to intersectional theory during the past several decades--experiences of class gender sexuality etc cannot be adequately understood unless the influences of racialization are carefully considered Such an exacting approach to scholarly and activist investigations is often daunting and thus rejected by many Yet feminists of color respond by pointing to the many flawed analyses and foundering interventions that have resulted from simplistic and distorting approaches that have assumed that discrete principles of social organization operate independently rather than interdependently in US society Feminists also note the importance of intersectional understandings if organizational and political practice are to become more inclusive and democratic
    While scholars and some activists have rightly attributed the term "intersectionality" toAfrican American feminist and legal scholar Kimberle Crenshaw; the term also has historical and theoretical links to the concept of "simultaneity" advanced during the 1970s by members of the Combahee River Collective in Massachusetts Members of that group articulated their awareness that their lives--and their forms of resistance to oppression--were profoundly shaped by the simultaneous influences of race class gender and sexuality Thus the women of the Combahee River Collective advanced an understanding of African American experiences that challenged analyses emerging from Black and male-centered social movement circles; as well as from analyses of mainstream White middle-class heterosexual feminists
    In the field of social work proponents of intersectionality hold that unless service providers take intersectionality into account they will be of less use and may in fact be detrimental for various segments of the population Thus service providers have an obligation to be aware of the seemingly unrelated factors that can impact a person's life experience and response to the service and to adapt their methods accordingly For instance according to intersectionality domestic violence counselors in the United States that urged all women to report their abusers to police would be of little use to women of color due to the history of racially-motivated police brutality in that population and those counselors should therefore develop a different approach appropriate for women of color

    Selected bibliography

    • An Anthology ISBN 0-534-52879-1 co-edited by Patricia Hill Collins and Margaret Andersen 1992 1995 1998 2001 2004 2007
    • Knowledge Consciousness and the Politics of Empowerment ISBN 0-415-92484-7 by Patricia Hill Collins 1990 2000