Practicing Intersectionality by Have Yeon Choo

Practicing Intersectionality in Sociological Research: A Critical Analysis of Inclusions, Interactions, and Institutions in the Study of Inequalities∗
University of Wisconsin–Madison
University of Wisconsin–Madison
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 under- standing intersectionality in practice: group-centered, process-centered, and system- centered. The first, emphasizes placing multiply-marginalized groups and their per- spectives at the center of the research. The second, intersectionality as a process, highlights power as relational, seeing the interactions among variables as multiply- ing 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 com- plex. 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.
Recent feminist scholarship increasingly presents race, class, and gender as closely intertwined and argues that these forms of stratification need to be studied in rela- tion to each other, conceptualizing them, for example, as a “matrix of domination” (Collins 1990) or “complex inequality” (McCall 2001). Scholars have referred this nonadditive way of understanding social inequality with various terms, including “intersectional” (Crenshaw 1991), “integrative” (Glenn 1999), or as a “race-class- gender” approach (Pascale 2007). Feminist scholarship has embraced the call for an intersectional analysis but largely left the specifics of what it means indistinct, leading Kathy Davis (2008) to call intersectionality a theoretical “buzzword” with as yet unrealized analytic bite. Moreover, whether such feminist appeals have practical consequences for sociology is hard to estimate without more precisely defining what this agenda implies for the conduct of research.
∗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: 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.
Sociological Theory 28:2 June 2010
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