Academic journal article Political Research Quarterly

Considerations on Mainstreaming Intersectionality

Academic journal article Political Research Quarterly

Considerations on Mainstreaming Intersectionality

Article excerpt


This article identifies five key considerations for adopting and mainstreaming intersectionality: the language and concepts that are used; the complexities of difference and how to navigate this complexity; the choice of focusing on identities, categories, processes, and/or systems; the model that is used to explain and describe mutually constituted differences; and the principles that determine which interactions are analyzed. The author argues that in the process of mainstreaming intersectionality, it is crucial to frame it as a form of social critique so as to foreground its radical capacity to attend to and disrupt oppressive vehicles of power.


intersectionality, feminism, matrix, critique

Over recent decades, the study of multiple, co-constituted differences has taken a strong hold in strands of feminism under the rubric of intersectionality. Intersectionality, as Ange-Marie Hancock (2007, 63) recently noted, is not simply a normative-theoretical argument but also a research paradigm.1 As such, rather than limiting intersectionality research to "a content specialization in populations with intersecting marginalized identities" (Hancock 2007, 64), this analytic paradigm can be widely applied to the study of social groups, relations, and contexts, so as to go beyond the conventional scope of nonwhite women. On this basis, as a framework of analysis that is widely applicable to various relations of marginality and privilege, intersectionality can be integrated into mainstream social science ways of conducting research and building knowledge.

The notion of mainstreaming intersectionality is appealing for many reasons. As Ann Phoenix and Pamela Pattynama (2006, 187) note, it foregrounds a richer ontology than approaches that attempt to reduce people to one category at a time, it treats social positions as relational, and it makes visible the multiple positioning that constitutes everyday life and the power relations that are central to it. As well, in addition to producing new theories of discrimination and important epistemological insights, intersectionality brings fresh perspectives on many legal and policy arenas related to human rights, the family, employment, criminal law, and immigration (Carbado and Gulati 2000-2001, 701). It does so by pushing against hegemonic disciplinary, epistemological, theoretical, and conceptual boundaries. Overall, the mainstreaming of intersectionality benefits political science and other social sciences because it expands and deepens the tools available to conduct, catalogue, and interpret research.

But what precisely about intersectionality should be mainstreamed?2 This can be a complicated question to answer because there is contestation about intersectionality within feminist theory. Like other research paradigms, not only is intersectionality constantly evolving, but feminists also differ in their understanding of it and adopt a wide range of empirical and normative tools. The contestability among feminists is not itself my concern, for this reflects the diversity and flexibility of intersectionality frameworks and indicates openness to further reflection, clarification, and inquiry. But precisely because intersectionality is a burgeoning and contested framework, my goals are to first to outline and clarify a set of theoretical considerations that are important for adopting this research paradigm; this may be particularly useful for those unfamiliar with intersectionality and interested in exploring the value of mainstreaming it. Second, I seek to engage in some of the existing debates among scholars of intersectionality so as to prescribe directions that foreground what I see as the central component of this research paradigm: critique of the work and effects of power. Broadly, by critique I mean that form of analysis that denaturalizes what is taken as given, thus showing that subjectivity is structured by language; that the universal unified subject of reason is a falsity; and that grand narratives are inadequate explanations of political life. …

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