Intersectionality refers to both an analytical method and a group of related social practices that are built on one considerably basic observation, that everyone, every individual can experience discrimination in different ways. To understand and fight against forms of discrimination, we have to consider every potential factor that can contribute to the marginalization of individuals in a particular cultural context. So intersectional analysis focuses on how the perception of things like gender, ethnicity, economic status, citizenship, sexual orientation, and physical ability come together and form our social identities and potentially form intersecting axes of oppression.
One of the best ways I can find to tell you what intersectionality a food analogy does is. Imagine if you will, a pizza with a bunch of different toppings, olives, pepperoni, mushrooms, and peppers. Every person that likes or dislikes this pizza will be for several reasons. A few people might dislike mushrooms, some might like cheese and other people hate pepperoni. So, if want to understand why people choose to eat or not eat pizza, we must take all of the ingredients into consideration. In this pizza analogy what intersectionality analysis would do is build a model that assesses each ingredient and looks at how people respond to them individually and in different combinations.
If people are predisposed to like an ingredient, it forms an axis of privilege. The pizzas with those ingredients will be most liked, most eaten, and most selected in our pizza shop. If people are predisposed to dislike an ingredient, it forms an axis of oppression. Pizza with those ingredients will be marginalized in our hypothetical pizza shop and would not be eaten as often.
Now swap out the pizza for a human being if you will. The toppings would stand for different socially relevant characteristics some age, ethnicity, gender so forth and the resulting theoretical map that appears from this allows us to better understand what combinations of variables inform the perception of our identities and how those intersect when we’re discussing either privilege or oppression in a specific social context. Intersectional theorists are not overly preoccupied with food. The theoretical perspective and method are most applied in studying minority groups and how they can be subject to discrimination on both the micro level of intersocial interaction and the macro level of corporate or state institutional and legal bias.
It highlights the ways in which dominant social narratives classify those groups, breaking those narratives down into intersecting axes to better understand and fight against them. So, intersectionality acknowledges that individual forms of discrimination exist things like misogyny, racism, ageism, and ableism but it’s particularly interested in how those forms of discrimination intersect to form new and complex social biases that are often difficult for us to fully articulate.
The term was introduced in the late 1980s by Kimberly Williams Crenshaw, who was working in the field of critical legal studies and this term was used by her and other American black feminists to discuss the complex discrimination that African American feminine activists encountered in the 1960s and 70’s in their engagement with anti-racist feminine and proper-union organization for workers’ rights. They found that each of these social movements elevated one category of analysis, the race for example was center to early civil rights movement, gender was center of feminism and class was central to the union. Because African American women were simultaneously black females and workers, they were often marginalized within social movements that focused exclusively on one single identity discourse.
Over the last 30 years, intersectionality has grown beyond the context of identity discourses in North America, and you will find it used and referenced all over the social sciences. It is essential in sociology and critical legal studies which is the disciplinary crucible when this theory was formed. But intersectional analysis has enormous potential and applicability in any qualitative approach to studying human interaction and forms of institutional discrimination.