Interest in and the application of intersectionality has exponentially increased in popularity in the last decade. Scholars and other stakeholders globally dealing with various disciplines have grown interest in the concept and the theory. There are scholars from disciplines that range from sociology, health sciences, philosophy, political science, ethnic studies, anthropology, legal studies, as well as feminist studies among others. They have drawn the concepts of intersectionality to challenge inequalities and promote social justice through promotion of social change in society. Policy makers, human rights activist, and even the community mobilizers have also adopted the theory as they search for improved approaches to handling and coming up with the permanent solution to complex social issues. However, there is still a majority of people that are not aware of intersectionality, do not also know what it means and why it is such a crucial and innovative framework for research, policy and practice. The research paper aims to offer knowledge and regarding definition, meaning and a guide to intersectionality. It will explore the essential elements, characteristics, how it is applicable across various disciplines at the same time offering its relationship with social change processes as it alters social problems.
The word intersection is an English word whose noun means a place where two or more roads meet, especially where there is a major highway involved. In mathematics, it is called a meet or product. Therefore, Intersectionality is the study of overlapping social identities as well as related systems such as oppression, discrimination, and domination. The theory examines how the various cultural, biological, and social factors interact in a varied environment usually with simultaneous levels. Such categories include; religion, sexual orientation, class, race, gender, age, religion and other axes of identity. The framework can be used to illuminate on how systemic injustice and social inequality occur on a multidimensional basis. An American Professor Kimberlé Crenshaw first used the term intersectionality in 1989. She defined it as, “The view that women experience oppression in varying configurations and varying degrees of intensity. Cultural patterns of oppression are not only interrelated but are bound together and influenced by the intersectional systems of society. Examples of this include race, gender, class, ability, and ethnicity.” It was because she was a feminist and the term was later expanded to include other disciplines and areas. According to the intersectional theory, individuals within a society have multilayered faced that they have to deal with over the course of their interaction with the community. The classical conceptualizations of oppression in society such as racism, classism, homophobia, transphobia, sexism and others do not act on their own or independently. They are intersectional in that they interrelate creating a kind of a system of oppression reflected by a form of “intersection” that is like the common ground of the multifaceted discrimination.
Intersectionality is a very crucial model in the broader contexts such a social justice works and demography. It, however, experiences difficulties due to the complexities involved in making the multidimensional concepts explaining how the social categorization of differentiation interact to form a kind of a social hierarchy. For example, intersectionality asset that there is no single experience of identity. In that rather than understanding racism solely through, the lens of color it is crucial to consider other social categories such as class, nation, ability or race in the quest to have a better understanding of the range of racist concerns. The theory further suggests that others shape the separate forms and expressions of oppression in that they are mutually constructive. Therefore, to accurately understand racialization of the oppressed group, one has to investigate the ways in which such structures, social structures, and social representations or rather the ideas that suggest representing groups and group members are shaped by factors such as gender, sexuality, and class. In as much as it began as an exploration of oppression facing women of color in the society, in the current society, it is applied to all categories. It is, therefore, a method of studying the relationships among various facets and modalities of social relationships and subject formations (McCall, 1775).
Different approaches could be applied for intersectionality due to its diverse use in various fields. The three major approaches are:
1. Inclusion/ Voice Models: Intersectionality may refer to a sharp focus in all disadvantaged groups to give voice to their perspectives and experiences. For example, low-income disabled African-American men. Choo and Ferree (129) assert that this model is meant to focus on the inclusion of a previously marginalized group of people. McCall (2005) defines it as ‘intra-categorical’ in that it is typically either a single category among a layer of other categories of inequality or oppression that form an intersection that is either an ideological construction or social setting or can be both. For example the experiences of minority men in nursing. A study by Harvey Wingfield (2009) indicated that race and gender intersect to limit the upward growth of the minority men in the sector. The inclusion approach further argues that a particular social group concurrently constituted by multiple statuses. The work can also break down simplistic notions of status categories by pointing to substantial heterogeneity within the groups.
2. Relational/Process Models: The structural type that is a process-centered analysis considers the transformations that occur when various statuses meet (Choo and Ferree, 134). Instead of considering gender and race, independently and how they affect one another; it considers how gender is raced and how the race is gendered. The scholars that take the approach name it as the ‘Inter-categorical’ (McCall, 1777). It means that one focuses on the categories to identify patterns of relations between them. The relational-process model may also attempt to determine whether particular is more or less significant in a given situation and even when the approach is often adopted with the strategic aim of liberating it and hence may end up reinforcing the categories instead of breaking them. The possibility that race and other social status could have its separate effect sets out relational or process approach from the systematic approach.
3. Systemic/Anti-categorical models: it is an entirely intersectional model that does not see any category as more significant than the other does. Their statuses and relationships with each other are problematized under the postulation that they are continually and mutually representing each other. Majority of the scholars that use this model reject the language of intersection even when making use of race, gender, class and investigate the relationships. The scholars take a complex and historically grounded approach to understanding the intersections as always constructing race, class, gender as well as other statuses such as the systematic inequalities (Choo and Ferree, 149). There are no effects on one aspect such as race since it is perceived as being gendered, sexualized, or classed.
Intersectionality is based on some fundamental tenets that include (Choo and Ferree, 147):
· The human lives cannot be fully explained and understood by taking into account single categories such as race, gender, or socio-economic status. The lives of the people in society are multifaceted and complex in many ways, and the realities are shaped by a variety of factors and social dynamics that operate together.
· When making an analysis of a social problem, the significance of a given category or structure cannot be prearranged. The categories, as well as their importance, have to be discovered in the course of doing the investigation.
· The relationships and the power dynamics between social locations and processes such as ageism, sexism, classism, and racism are interlinked. They can change over time and be different depending on the geographical settings.
· The multiple level analysis linking the individual, experiences to broader structures and systems are crucial for the revelation of how power relations are experienced and shaped.
· Individuals can experience oppression and privileges concurrently depending on the situation or particular context they are in.
· Researchers, scholars, policy makers, and activists have to consider their individual social position, role, and power when taking intersectional approach. The reflexivity should be in place before setting priorities and directions for their work.
· Intersectionality is explicitly oriented towards transformation, building coalitions among groups and working towards social justice.
Proponents of intersectionality in the field of social work hold that unless service provider takes it into account, they will remain irrelevant and may even lead to detrimental effects to segments of the population in the process of disseminating their duties (Brown). Therefore, the service providers have an obligation to be aware of the superficially unrelated factors that can have an impact on the life of an individual and a person’s life experiences. They should be careful as they choose and adapt the methods to use to solve social issues and should be keen on the response exuded because of their services. For example, women of color abused should not just be encouraged to report all domestic abuse cases to the police due to the police brutality and inequality against the women of color and hence may get little or no help. They should, therefore, coin other approaches to deal with the social problem. It is also impossible to exude social change in such a situation without applying the intersectional models to address the problems since it tackles the issue from a holistic and fully informed level considering all the angles of society (Brown).
In psychology, the incorporation of intersectional theory has been done since the 1950s. The psychological effects span a range of variables although the person-situation effects are the most examined category (Brown). Therefore, psychologists do not construct the interactions effect on issues such s gender and race as either worth noting or less important than other effects. Oppression is a subjective construct and even on reaching an objective definition, person by situation effects will make it difficult to consider particular individuals as uniformly oppressed. For example, Black men are perceived as being violent which indicates a disadvantage in the police interactions and attractive which connotes advantage in the context of courtship. Additionally, the intersectionality theory has been falsified by psychological research indicating that the additive effect of oppressed identities is not necessarily negative. For example, black gay men are perceived as possessing positive traits. However, there has been some recent publications that point to a development of the psychology of intersecting (Brown).
Social change is usually achieved through the spirit of social movements to push for change. The spirit of social movements is further useful in the case of intersectional activism that is activism that addresses multiple forms of discrimination or oppression such as racism, sexism, and classism (Woehrle, 270). Intersectional activism is crucial to changing the people’s hearts, perceptions, and minds, which leads to social change. It is also an important tool to explain how the leaders of social movements influence others through the indication and demonstration of the interlink or intersection of then various social problems that they face and hence the need for collective action.
Intersectionality has led to the recognition of a collective form of identity that has provided scholars with a means to make sense out of the labor of those who influence social movement or protects organizations. It has created a way that is both useful and influential to both the activism organizers and academics to see an organization through its values and goals that have ultimately led to social change (Woehrle, 273). The ability to simplify the formerly complex messages to reusable and recognizable parts is useful in making a clear and impactful statement that inspires and sustains social change. Social change was too vague a term and hence the need for groups to have an identity marker so that what they stood for and those that needed the cause was public and easy to access. The intersectionality model offered this to individuals as they recognized the basic aspects of the complex society that lead to social segregation and inequality (Woehrle, 274).
For social change to happen, it requires numbers and sympathy and. Therefore, there is need to establish a shared identity and inspiration for a large number of people. It is the identity and the sense of commonality of issues offered by an intersectional view (Doetsch-Kidder, 200). The community can address various social problems by use of a single platform therefore joining different individuals with differing interests making a huge social movement that is efficient to bring about social change (Doetsch-Kidder, 203). For example, the feminists may recognize that racism is also gendered and, therefore, work together with the civic activists and the movement against racism thus increasing the number of people in a single movement that achieves both the end of racism and gender inequality. The numbers are essential to bringing about social change in the given society (Doetsch-Kidder, 205).
In conclusion, intersectionality is explicitly oriented towards transformation, building coalitions among groups and working towards social justice. It is an approach that recognizes that social problems in the society have multiple layers that form complex structures and therefore, social change can only be possible through addressing all the issues at their point of intersection. The model further indicates that various social problems all have a meeting point in that they relate. Intersectionality is, therefore, crucial to achieving social change and solving social problems in society. Although it began among feminists, it is applicable in a variety of fields with scholars, researchers, and policy makers across various disciplines paying keen interest on the model’s key tenets to apply intersectionality in the diverse fields.
Brown, Marni A., "Coming Out Narratives: Realities of Intersectionality."Dissertation, Georgia
State University, 2011.http://scholarworks.gsu.edu/sociology_diss/63.
Choo, Hae Yeon & Myra Marx Ferree. “Practicing Intersectionality in Sociological Research: A
Critical Analysis of Inclusions, Interactions, and Institutions in the Study of Ineqialities.” Theory and Society. 28(2), 2010:129-149
Doetsch-Kidder Sharon. Social Change and Intersectional Activism: The Spirit of Social
Movement. London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012. Pp. 200-250.
McCall, Leslie. "The Complexity of Intersectionality.” Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and
Society.30(3), 2005: 1771-1800
Woehrle Lynne. Intersectionality and Social Change (Research in Social Movements, Conflicts and Change). Bingley: Emerald Group Publishing Limited, 2014. Pp. 270-275.
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