Making Our Research Intersectional
Cover photo by S O C I A L . C U T on Unsplash
In 1989, American legal expert Kimberlé Crenshaw coined the term ‘intersectionality’ to define the ways in which racial and gender discriminations combine in society to create unfair disadvantages for black women. The term grew to encompass all people of colour and other overlapping areas of discrimination such as disabilities, sexuality and class. In the thirty years since the word was first used, intersectionality has become part of a wider discussion not only on how we analyse current events but on how we view and explain events of the past as well. Unfortunately it has also been surrounded by an atmosphere of confusion.
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Perhaps the best way to introduce intersectionality is by starting with feminism. Intersectional feminism addresses the different issues women of colour face as opposed to those of white women. Women of colour not only face gender-based discrimination, but racial discrimination as well. Further, the disabled, LGBTQ and lower class communities also face separate discriminations that can add up to make their life experiences much different from that of a heterosexual, white woman or man. For a long time, and often still today, feminism did not address these issues experienced by a large percentage of women, therefore ignoring the steps needed to right social injustices.
What some people often forget, though, is that intersectionality is pertinent to several areas outside of feminist studies. And while in academia it might be most prominent in women’s and gender studies/history, it can easily be applied to other areas as well. I have much to learn about the intricacies of intersectionality, but I do strive to use it in my research and general approaches to life. I also hold a firm belief that an intersectional framework provides a great opportunity to ensure that the wider field of research is more representative of all aspects of society. In the way that women’s studies has helped find and represent the places and voices of women both in the past and now, intersectionality can uncover the stories of those whose struggles and triumphs have for too long been ignored.
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Although the finer details of intersectional research can become a bit convoluted, working to include intersectionality into individual research projects can be done just by looking outside of our own comfort zones. I first implemented an intersectional framework in my research and writing two years ago when I began my masters’ dissertation. I was dealing with gendered representations of an early nineteenth-century society and quickly noticed the disparities between representations of white and black people – disparities that, once I researched more, had very much to do with contemporary events and stereotypes. Because I wanted to look at society as a whole, I knew that ignoring these racial representations, few as there may have been, would do a disservice to the very fact that non-white people lived in this society. It would also go against what I believed (and still believe) the goal of academia should be: to learn from past mistakes and evolve. From there, using an intersectional framework was the only direction I could possibly see my research going.
Outside of my area of research, other fields have worked to make their approaches more intersectional as well. For example, in Law, Critical Legal Studies strives to understand how minority groups are/can be marginalised by current laws and practices. There is room in every field to ensure the history, voices and rights of everyone are at least considered. And where better to start the conversation than through our own research? You don’t have to be an expert on every struggle faced by every person in the world in order to adopt an intersectional perspective. You just have to know where it started, what it aims to accomplish, and, perhaps most importantly, what we can all accomplish together alongside it.
Photo by Emily Baker on Flickr
If you’re interested in learning more about intersectionality, the following works have been instrumental in furthering the implementation of intersectionality as well as showing its wider importance for academia and society as a whole.
‘Mapping the Margins: Intersectionality, Identity Politics, and Violence Against Women of Color’ by Kimberlé Crenshaw
This Bridge Called My Back: Radical Writings by Women of Colour, Edited by Cherríe Moraga and Gloria Anzaldúa
The Master’s Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master’s House, by Audre Lorde
Framing Intersectionality: Debates on a Multi-Faceted Concept in Gender Studies, Edited by Helma Lutz, Maria Teresa Herrera Vivar and Linda Supik