Political Science Intersectionality in Political Science
Nadia E. Brown, Guillermo Caballero, Sarah Gershon
  • LAST MODIFIED: 12 January 2021
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756223-0327


At its heart, intersectionality is a study of relative power. As such, political scientists have employed this approach as both a theory and method to examine political behavior and the state’s interaction with social groups as citizens and noncitizens. Intersectionality is a framework that recognizes the interconnectedness of sociopolitical categories that overlap with systems of discrimination or disadvantage. The study of intersectionality is interdisciplinary and does not have one academic home. As such, we compiled a list of texts that have used this concept, methodological framework, or theoretical approach to answer questions using a political science lens with the goal of providing a broad summary of contemporary research in this field. Furthermore, we made an effort to represent research that highlights the variation among social groups, regions, and issues as a way to illustrate the diversity within intersectional research projects. In political science, intersectionality has been used as a normative theoretical argument and a methodological approach to empirical research. Rooted in Black feminist theory and praxis, intersectionality has been employed as an analytical tool to bring to light issues of marginalization and systematic oppression that were previously invisible by using a single axis approach. Much of political science research seeks to understand the experiences of those with one or more marginalized identities as political actors. The research in this field is diverse in the populations and questions examined as well as the methods employed. Contemporary research on intersectionality includes comparative and international research on nations around the world. It explores the role of institutions, culture, and context as well as individual political identities, attitudes, and behavior. This scholarship also examines the differences of experiences within populations—such as women and racial, ethnic, or religious minorities often grouped for analysis in other fields. In applying an intersectional analysis to political experiences of these populations, this research often highlights the ways in which different identities are associated with distinct attitudes, behavior, and political outcomes. As a result, intersectionality research in political science offers deeper insights into political phenomena that were previously examined with a single axis approach. For example, studies of women’s political involvement that did not account for difference among groups of women failed to account for how ethno-racial, sexual orientation, nativity, disability, or religion may have influenced women’s political experiences and political outcomes. Among the debates engaged by this literature are questions revolving around the political experiences associated with multiple marginalized identities. Specifically, do groups, candidates, or public officials who possess multiple marginalized identities experience a so-called double disadvantage? Some research indicates this is the case, while others find strategic advantage associated with intersectional identities.

Foundations of Intersectionality and Political Science Research

Coined by legal scholar Kimberle Crenshaw (see Crenshaw 1989), intersectionality conceptualizes the junctions of race and gender that interact to oppress Black women. Crenshaw 1991 cites legal cases that provide recourse to Black women who experienced either race or gender discrimination that fails to acknowledge the complexities of women who experience multiple modes of oppression. Collins 2000, Combahee River Collective 2014, Nash 2011, and Taylor 2017 are based on the lived experiences of Black women who theorized from the multiplicities of oppressive structures and other women of color with subjugated identities (Moraga and Anzaldua 1987) intersectionality is an analytical tool that enables complex analysis of marginalization. These interdisciplinary studies ground intersectionality scholarship in political science. With the term introduced in the late 20th century, intersectionality has expanded to study how sociopolitical experiences interact with and inform both the marginalization and privilege of specific social groups. As the prototypical intersectional subject, Black women have been erased as a unit of analysis in current intersectional work (Alexander-Floyd 2012). Hancock 2016 extends intersectional analysis to other women of color, Third World feminisms, and the increased need for intersectional work in political science. Building on these foundational texts, works by political scientists, such as Beltran 2013 and Cohen 1999, demonstrate that political implications of theorizing group identity from a signal axis approach.

  • Alexander-Floyd, Nikol G. “Disappearing Acts: Reclaiming Intersectionality in the Social Sciences in a Post-Black Feminist Era.” Feminist Formations 4.1 (2012): 1–25.

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    An essay that examines how post-Black definitions of intersectionality have erased Black women as knowledge producers.

  • Beltran, Cristina. “Crossing and Correspondences: Rethinking Intersectionality and the Category ‘Latino.’” Politics & Gender 9.4 (2013): 479–483.

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    Beltran takes an intersectional approach to bring attention to the ways that feminist and queer theory inform Latino as a political identity. Beltran argues that Latindad should be understood as an incomplete heterogenous project that provides a site to study how different groups within the category of Latino have mobilized politically.

  • Cohen, Cathy. Boundaries of Blackness: AIDS and the Breakdown of Black Politics. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1999.

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    In this canonical text, Cohen theorizes that crosscutting issues such as sexual orientation and class status can complicate minoritized group politics. This text focuses on the political response to the impact of AIDS in the Black community.

  • Collins, Patricia H. Black Feminist Thought: Knowledge, Consciousness, and the Politics of Empowerment. 2d ed. New York: Routledge, 2000.

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    A classic text that theorizes and centers on the lived experiences of Black women. This text covers distinguishing principals, core themes, and epistemological roots of Black feminist thought. The matrix of domination is introduced as a sociological paradigm that recognizes the interconnectedness of race, class, and gender as different social classifications.

  • Combahee River Collective. “A Black Feminist Statement.” Women’s Studies Quarterly 42.3–4 (2014): 271–280.

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    The progenitor of intersectionality has a long tradition in Black women’s critiques of society. The Black Feminist Statement is a document developed from the lived experience of radical Black lesbian feminists and details how they face multiple forms of oppression. This piece is the first to use the term identity politics. The Combahee River Collective describes the genesis of their political thought, their politics, problems, and coalitions.

  • Crenshaw, Kimberle. “Demarginalizing the Intersection of Race and Sex: A Black Feminist Critique of Antidiscimination Doctrine, Feminist Theory and Antiracist Politics.” University of Chicago Legal Forum 1.8 (1989): 139–167.

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    Crenshaw coins the term intersectionality to argue the social location of Black women as an analytical lens to examine power and structures. She argues that Black women occupy a unique social location that keeps them from being recognized by policies that remedy issues of sexism and/or racism in court cases. Therefore, legal remedies that are either anti-racist or feminist fail to consider how those with identities at multiple intersections are harmed.

  • Crenshaw, Kimberle. “Mapping the Margins: Intersectionality, Identity Politics, and Violence against Women of Color.” Stanford Law Review 43.6 (1991): 1241–1299.

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    Anti-racist and feminist discourses have failed women of color. Crenshaw focuses on systemic issues of battering and rape to show the structural, political, and representational dimensions of intersectionality.

  • Hancock, Ange-Marie. Intersectionality: An Intellectual History. New York: Oxford University Press, 2016.

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    Hancock broadens the intellectual genealogy of intersectionality by covering a wide range of fields focused on the subject of violence against women that is written by scholars and activists. As such Hancock argues that intersectionality is a project that is supposed to remedy specific moments of intersectional stigma or indivisibility and be an analytical project that reconceptualizes how categories of differences relate to each other.

  • Moraga, Cherrie, and Gloria Anzaldua. This Bridge Called My Back. New York: Kitchen Table Women of Color, 1987.

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    A collection of essays, poems, and art from Latina authors writing specifically on the mestiza experiences. This text provides readings to understand the social context of mestiza Latinas, which are precursors to the principle of intersectionality.

  • Nash, Jennifer C. “‘Home Truths’ on Intersectionality.” Yale Journal of Law & Feminism 23.2 (2011).

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    A law review essay that positions the relationship between intersectionality and Black feminism. Intersectionality is a byproduct of Black feminism and is not synonymous with Black feminism.

  • Taylor, Keeanga-Yamahtta. How We Get Free: Black Feminist and the Combahee River Collective. Chicago: Haymarket, 2017.

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    This text provides personal accounts of organizing efforts from Black feminist foundational theorists and activists. Through interviews with founding members of the Combahee River Collective, Taylor connects the legacy of Black feminism to its influence on today’s sociopolitical struggles.

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