Practicing Intersectionality in Sociological Research: A Critical Analysis of Inclusions, Interactions, and Institutions in the Study of Inequalities*

Authors


  • *

    Address correspondence to: Hae Yeon Choo, Department of Sociology, 8128 William H. Sewell Social Sciences Building, 1180 Observatory Drive, Madison, WI 53706–1393. E-mail: hychoo@ssc.wisc.edu. We thank Angela Barian, Jessica Brown, Wendy Christensen, Kristy Kelly, Chaitanya Lakkimsetti, and Susan Rottman for their helpful suggestions on earlier versions of this article, and the participants in the NWSA 2008 Women of Color Essay Award Panel for their encouragement.

Abstract

In this article we ask what it means for sociologists to practice intersectionality as a theoretical and methodological approach to inequality. What are the implications for choices of subject matter and style of work? We distinguish three styles of understanding intersectionality in practice: group-centered, process-centered, and system-centered. The first, emphasizes placing multiply-marginalized groups and their perspectives at the center of the research. The second, intersectionality as a process, highlights power as relational, seeing the interactions among variables as multiplying oppressions at various points of intersection, and drawing attention to unmarked groups. Finally, seeing intersectionality as shaping the entire social system pushes analysis away from associating specific inequalities with unique institutions, instead looking for processes that are fully interactive, historically co-determining, and complex. Using several examples of recent, highly regarded qualitative studies, we draw attention to the comparative, contextual, and complex dimensions of sociological analysis that can be missing even when race, class, and gender are explicitly brought together.

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