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Intersectionality: Diversity Within Categories


This paper explores the notion of intersectionality along with the challenges and advantages that it seems to open up. Having been suggested in the previous century, the idea of the importance of the intersectionality approach in the field of social studies appears to have changed our perception of discrimination. In a multicultural, multilingual, globalized world that strives to leave stereotypes behind, the study of the relationship between social groups acquires a particular significance. In this work the notion of intersectionality is studied, its origins and definitions are researched, and its significance is highlighted. People and disciplines associated with intersectionality are mentioned in this respect. It is suggested that this approach is a step forward from the point of view of sociology studies, which can assist in the fight of modern society against discrimination. Examples of discrimination that require an intersectionality approach in order to alleviate it are given.

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As a result of globalization, emancipation, economic and cultural changes of the recent decades the problem of discrimination has become even more acute (Moodian, 2009). However, this does not presuppose the impossibility of solving it. Instead, it proves that the modern world attempts to embrace the diversity of the human race. Activities and strategies aimed at establishing equality are particularly important nowadays, and intersectionality is one of the approaches that may facilitate the struggle against discrimination.

Intersectionality and its Advantages

Intersectionality: definition, origins, studies

According to Healey (2012), intersectionality is an “approach to the study of group relations that stresses the interconnections between all forms of inequality” (p 423). The author points out that it is associated with the name Patricia Hill Collins, but it should be mentioned that the ground for this approach lies in the social studies that defined discrimination as such (starting with Marx and moving over to Weber and Lenski) as the notion of stratification and its relation to the level of development of society was defined (Healey, 2012). Stratification seems to have existed for as long as the human race did, and it presupposes “unequal distribution of valued goods and services” (Healey, 2012, p 11). The reasons for the existence of stratification are numerous: “class, race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, and so forth” (Healey, 2012, p 432).

Intersectionality theorists investigated the cases in which a person was discriminated against on the basis of several different reasons. They conclude that such discrimination reasons influence each other. Moreover, they have found out that such cases are numerous. This posed new challenges for social studies. Sociologists used to treat social relationships as a number of dichotomies. Now they realize it is an extremely complex system. Even though analyzing its constituents separately is important, only the resulting combination of them can provide a complete picture of this phenomenon (Healey, 2012, p 12-14).

The Significance of Intersectionality

One of the main reasons due to which intersectionality was suggested is the persistence of discrimination. Indeed, it appears that understanding the harmfulness of discrimination is not enough to eliminate it. According to Healey (2012), the starting point of discrimination is prejudice. A minor, irrelevant situation can create a stereotype that leads to discrimination without any substantial ground for it (Healey, 2012, p. 25). The people discriminated against also adopt these prejudices. For example, homosexuals may doubt that they can properly raise a child because of the stereotypes existing in their environment, even though there exists proof to the contrary (Berkowitz & Marsiglio, 2007).

The fact that discrimination is dangerous does not require proof: it causes conflicts and poverty, closes the path to education and higher positions for the discriminated, decreases the diversity and satisfaction of employees, and creates additional obstacles for the minorities who wish to participate in the government of their country (Moodian, 2009). The vulnerability of discriminated groups lies in their own psychics as well, as they grow to believe that the stereotypes concerning their groups are true and their status is deserved. This suggests the importance of activities directed at improving their knowledge about the reasons for discrimination and their self-esteem. Such a solution could encourage them to fight for their rights and strive for better life quality, education, positions, and power for themselves and their children. These activities, however, should be based on the principles of intersectionality.

The primary reason for promoting this approach is the realization that both society and the human as a social beings are extremely complex notions. They cannot be limited to a single dimension and the numerous aspects that make them up should not be regarded in isolation, since in reality they interact and affect each other (McCall, 2005). This is why, according to McCall (2005), intersectionality is “a most important theoretical contribution that women’s studies, in conjunction with related fields, has made so far” (p. 1771).

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A Call for Practical Application

The examples of complex discrimination cases are numerous, and the one we are going to describe is connected to the race and the sexual orientation of people concerned. The position of homosexuals has been insecure for the past several decades, and even though this group appears to be defended by the law, very often it turns out that this defense is insufficient. Homosexual people may want to have families and children: adopted, born with the help of IVF, or even from their previous spouses. It turns out, however, that families consisting of a homosexual pair with children do not exist from the legal point of view (Hequembourg, 2004, p. 754).

The situation becomes more complicated for homosexual people of color. Racial prejudices are still a major problem, and the same can be said about gender inequality and the sexual oppression of women (Moore, 2011). This explains why it is particularly difficult for black lesbian women to accept their sexual identity (Moore, 2011). Black lesbian women of lower social and financial status find it most difficult to reveal their identity (Moore, 2011, p. 116). As Moore (2011) points out, they expect to be deprived of the support of the group they belong to, which is often the only support they have, in case they choose to come out. Apart from that, after adopting the stereotypes connected to their groups, gay parents may believe that their “improper” sexual identity can harm their children which has a most negative effect on the psychical state of homosexual mothers and homosexual fathers as well (Moore, 2011; Berkowitz & Marsiglio, 2007).

These examples may be used to prove that minorities may be numerous (gender discrimination) and that the cases of the interrelation of marginalized statuses do not appear to be rare. It is also shown that in combination these statuses serve to deteriorate the quality of life of the groups concerned exponentially.


According to McCall (2005), it was gender-based and race-based discrimination that served to attract the attention of researchers to intersectionality. Still, as modern studies show, the core idea of the approach presupposes taking into account numerous and various types of discrimination which is being done already. Realizing that the interaction of different discrimination reasons makes it more difficult for society to fight discrimination, scientists attempt to incorporate intersectionality in their studies. The necessity of this approach is clearly demonstrated by the numerous examples of complex discrimination persisting all over the world.


Berkowitz, D., & Marsiglio, W. (2007). Gay Men: Negotiating Procreative, Father, and Family Identities. J Marriage And Family, 69(2), 366-381. doi:10.1111/j.1741-3737.2007.00371.x

Healey, J. F. (2012). Diversity and society: Race, ethnicity and gender. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications.

Hequembourg, A. (2004). Unscripted motherhood: Lesbian mothers negotiating incompletely institutionalized family relationships. Journal Of Social And Personal Relationships, 21(6), 739-762. doi:10.1177/0265407504047834

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McCall, L. (2005). The Complexity of Intersectionality. Signs: Journal Of Women In Culture And Society, 30(3), 1771-1800. doi:10.1086/426800

Moodian, M.A. (Ed.). (2009). Contemporary leadership and intercultural competence: Exploring the cross-cultural dynamics within organizations. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications.

Moore, M. (2011). Invisible families. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.

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