What is intersectionality?

Due to their frequent confrontations with racism, sexism and classism, Black feminists first coined the theoretical concept of intersectionality. The concept of intersectionality is highly relevant for health research as it contributes to a more comprehensive understanding of health inequalities, through ist formulation of social dimensions, such as gender and race as socially constructed social category. An further important principle of intersectionality is that various social categories are inextricably interwoven.

What are social categories?

Social categories do not represent individual characteristics, but are the result of social constructs. Sex/gender, for example, is a category of difference because assumptions of difference between genders are constructed through social action. More about social categories here.

What does it mean that social categories are interwoven?

From an intersectional perspective, social categories are seen as intersecting or interwoven. This means that such social categories cannot be analysed independently, but only in interaction with other categories. Interwoven social categories form intersections and shape unique experiences of privilege or exclusion. This is clearly demonstrated, in the example below of discrimination against Black women in the US automative industry, who were exposed to a unique form of discrimination that was more than the sum of both sexist and racist discrimination.

Example: Discrimination against Black women in the US automotive industry
What perspectives does the concept of intersectionality open up?

An intersectional perspective can aim to make visible the diversity between and within gender groups with regard to further social categories (intra-categorical approach). An intersectional perspective can also mean looking at combinations of social categories without focusing on one particular category (inter-categorical approach). Ultimately, an intersectional perspective makes clear that only through the dissolution of categories can social hierarchies be prevented and unequal power relations dissolved (anti-categorical approach).

Intersectionality is, furthermore, a reading of social phenomena and an interdisciplinary research stance that aims at social justice. In addition to making visible the interconnectedness of social categories, intersectionality encompasses a number of other principles. Among other things, an intersectional perspective foregrounds the researcher's dependence on social power structures and demands that researchers themselves question their position in these power structures before beginning an analysis of social inequality (reflexivity). A list of the key principles of the concept of intersectionality can be found in the following example.

Example: Principles of Intersectionality 
What is intersectionality-informed research?

While it is possible that certain principles of intersectionality may be the focus in a project, whereas others take a back seat, the concept of intersectionality itself does not set a hierarchy of different principles. To highlight the fact that the principles of intersectionality often experience different weighting in practice, we speak of intersectionality-informed and not intersectional research. In intersectionality-informed research, the weighting of the principles should be made transparent and the possible consequences of this emphasis for the interpretation of the results should be critically discussed. In this way, a dilution of the concept can be prevented.

Further Resources

Further resources: