Theorizing and Researching Intersectionality: A Challenge for Feminist Geography


  • *I wish to thank Karen Dias and Jennifer Blecha in the strongest possible terms for inviting me to participate in the Department of Geography, University of Minnesota Fall 2004 speaker series, Feminism and Social Theory in Geography. Their hospitality was second to none and I was inspired by the conversations shared with them, and their colleagues, in both formal and informal settings during my visit. I am also very grateful to the three anonymous referees, to participants in a World University Network video seminar series, and to the staff and students at Christina Institute, University of Helsinki, Finland, where the paper was also presented for their very constructive comments and suggestions on the original draft of this article. The case study material used in the final section of this article is taken from a research project funded by the Economic and Social Research Council and carried out in collaboration with Tracey Skelton, Ruth Butler, and two research assistants (Sally McNamee and Carol Devanny). I wish to acknowledge their implicit role in this article through the use of the empirical material from one of the interviews conducted as part of this project.


This article focuses on the concept of intersectionality, which is being used within the wider social sciences by feminists to theorize the relationship between different social categories: gender, race, sexuality, and so forth. Although research within the field of feminist geography has explored particular interconnections such as those between gender and race, the theoretical concept of intersectionality as debated in the wider social sciences has not been addressed. This article attempts to respond to that omission. It begins by tracing the emergence of debates about the interconnections between gender and other identities. It goes on to reflect on attempts to map geometries of oppressions. The emphasis then moves from theorizing intersectionality to questioning how it can be researched in practice by presenting a case study to illustrate intersectionality as lived experience. The conclusion demonstrates the contribution that feminist geography can make to advance the theorization of intersectionality through its appreciation of the significance of space in processes of subject formation. It calls for feminist geography to pay more attention to questions of power and social inequalities.