Intersectionality: Producing More Accurate and Useful Information for Making Change

The term, intersectionality emerged from U.S. Black feminism, Indigenous feminism, third world feminism, queer and postcolonial theory and was officially coined by Kimberlé Crenshaw in 1989 (Hankivsky & Cormier, 2009). This concept moves beyond favored categories of analysis which typically include: sex, gender, race, and class and then uses that information to consider interactions between different aspects of social identity which can include: race, ethnicity, Indigeneity, gender, class, sexuality, geography, age, ability, immigration status, religion, as well as the impact of systems and processes of oppression and domination which can include: racism, classism, sexism, ableism, and homophobia (Hankivsky & Cormier, 2009). The key assumptions of intersectionality are: pursuit of social justice as main objective, conceptualization of identity and social categories of difference, and power as central to an intersectional analysis (Hankivsky & Cormier, 2009).

As stated by the authors, Olena Hankivsky and Renee Cormier in their article “Intersectionality: Moving Women’s Health Research and Policy Forward,”  intersectionality is transforming gender studies, cultural studies, and migration studies and has started to influence the disciplines of economics, political science, psychology, geography, criminology, history, sociology, and anthropology (2009). A central goal of intersectionality is the social inclusion of previously “ignored and excluded populations” (Hankivsky & Cormier, 2009). And today, more recently, intersectionality is being constructed in a way that it can be “applicable to any group of people, advantaged as well as the disadvantaged” (Hankivsky & Cormier, 2009).

Unlike traditional approaches, which often ignored the complexities of identity formation of women moreover, intersectionality has the potential to produce more accurate and useful information for making change and, in the process, helping to ensure that “existing efforts do not inadvertently disadvantage or harm any particular individual or community, or alternatively be complicit in the empowerment of another” (Rummens, 2004). Intersectionality provides the theoretical foundation for the quest of social justice.

Intersectionality can be thought of as a research and policy paradigm. A policy paradigm can be described as an “overarching set of ideas that specify how the problems facing them are to be perceived, which goals might be attained through policy and what sorts of techniques can be used to reach those goals” (web definition). Intersectionality is seen to be a policy paradigm for “fundamentally altering the ways in which social problems are identified, experienced, and understood so as to reflect the multiplicity of lived experiences” (Oxman-Martinez et al., 2002). Intersectionality can be conceptualized as a “loose set of ideas about how to undertake research and design and implement public and health policy” (Hankivsky & Cormier, 2009).

An intersectional approach is different from other approaches by how it conceptualizes social identity or categories of difference; by how it “places power and the complexity of processes of domination and subordination at the centre of analysis; and by how its main objective is the pursuit of social justice through intersectoral and counterintuitive coalitions” (Hankivsky & Cormier, 2009).

I looked up the following article/case study, “An intersectional analysis of visual media: A case of diesel advertisements” by Anthony J. Barnum and Anna M. Zajicek from 2008. To read the article, the link isà http://kuscholarworks.ku.edu/dspace/bitstream/1808/5693/1/STARV29A3.pdf

Below is the abstract from the author’s:

This study is intended to advance the application of an intersectional approach that focuses on the simultaneous operation of gender, race/ethnicity, and sexuality to the analysis of visual media, such as advertisements. Despite the growing advocacy to systematically include intersectionality in our analyses of people’s experiences and identities, on the one hand, and their images/representations, on the other, sociologists still tend to analyze only one of these identities at a time. In this article, we argue that the application of the intersectional approach leads to more complex and adequate understandings of how identities and power relations are constructed in visual media. Towards this end, we conduct an intersectional analysis of Diesel advertisements using the concepts of racialized gender and gendered race, and demonstrate the advantages of an intersectional analysis. In doing so, we hope to provide an illustration of an intersectional analysis of visual media, such as advertisements, which could inform the work of others interested in conducting similar analyses.

(Barnum & Zajicek, 2008)

The author’s purpose of this study was to conduct an intersectional case study of advertisements located in the public realm to illustrate the principles and advantages of an intersectional analysis (Barnum & Zajicek, 2008). The author’s say that in relation to advertising, intersectionality “allows us to understand how race/ethnicity, sexuality, and gender” (Barnum & Zajicek, 2008). This perspective can be applied to other visual media, including advertising campaigns, to see how complex intersectionalites are constructed and how they continually enter our consciousness (Barnum & Zajicek, 2008). Moreover, intersectionality calls for a different, more complex, and more holistic, reading of signs and symbolic orders (Barnum & Zajicek, 2008). The aspects of race, ethnicity, gender, and sexuality that are emphasized in the Diesel campaign “Nature: Love It While It Lasts” construct postmodern identities that are composed of fractured multiplicities (Barnum & Zajicek, 2008). This is accomplished by recognizing the parts of nature that are placed to form the perfect landscape to house the exotic of the body. Next, the exotic is taken from the context of a carnivalesque body and placed upon a classical body that is embedded in a nature illustrating the qualities of the body through such actions as sexual embeds (Barnum & Zajicek, 2008). To conclude, the authors goal was to show the “value of intersectional perspective in deconstruction of how the hegemonic representations of the body in visual media” (Barnum & Zajicek, 2008). The authors believe that intersectional analysis provides a resource for shifting our perceptions of the meanings embedded in advertisements and it also has potential for alternative pedagogy and knowledge creation that are connected to a multi-dimensional social change (Barnum & Zajicek, 2008).

Sources:

Barnum, A. J., & Zajicek, A. M. (2008). An intersectional analysis of visual media: A case of diesel advertisements. (Master’s thesis) Retrieved from http://kuscholarworks.ku.edu/dspace/bitstream/1808/5693/1/STARV29A3.pdf

Hankivsky, O., & Cormier, R. (2009). Intersectionality: Moving Women’s Health Research and Policy Forward. Vancouver: Women’s Health Research Network.

Oxman-Martinez, J., Krane, J., & Corgin, N. (2002). Competing conceptions of conjugal violence: Insights from an intersectional framework. Montreal: Centre for Applied Family Studies, McGill University and Immigration & Metropolis.

Rummens, J. A. (2004). Overlapping and intersecting identities. Canadian Diversity/Diversité Canadienne, 3(2), 5–9.

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One response to “Intersectionality: Producing More Accurate and Useful Information for Making Change

  1. This is an interesting and well-written post. Great work.

    Question for you: If a researcher or activist working in the Critical Legal Studies tradition failed to incorporate the concept of intersectionality into his or her work, what sorts of consequences could / would arise? Do we see evidence of this sort of failure in contemporary social movements and law reform campaigns?