In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Intersectionalities

  • Introduction
  • Textbooks
  • Anthologies
  • Journals
  • Definitions
  • Metaphors of Intersectionality
  • Organizational Frameworks of Intersectionality
  • Methodologies
  • Critiques of Intersectionality
  • Intersectional Praxis
  • Transnational Intersectionalities
  • Institutionalization of Intersectionality in the Interdiscipline of Gender Studies
  • Institutionalization of Intersectionality in Disciplines

Sociology Intersectionalities
Judith A. Howard
  • LAST REVIEWED: 29 May 2014
  • LAST MODIFIED: 29 May 2014
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756384-0111


Individuals are shaped by the multiple categories to which they are perceived to belong and the social structures that undergird systems of categorization. Systems of social categorization are virtually always associated with differential, unequal resources. Intersectionality is a concept fundamental to understanding these societal inequalities; the key assertion of intersectionality is that the various systems of societal oppression do not act independently of each other. Different systems of inequality are transformed in their intersections, the fundamental principle of intersectionality. The phrase “race, class, and gender,” still in use, is a precursor of the concept of intersectionality. The preferred use of the latter term reflects in part the awareness that there are more than three intersecting systems of societal inequalities. The metaphors noted in the section Metaphors of Intersectionality below have been powerful visualizations of this complexity. Further, some identities may be privileged categories, others marginalized. Thus oppression and privilege may be experienced simultaneously, complicating the analysis of inequality. These issues are addressed in the section Critiques of Intersectionality below. Intersectionality crosses levels of analysis, from the micro-level experiences of individual actors to the macro-level structural, organizational, and institutional contexts in which human interactions and experiences are formed. Intersectionality is an analytic approach, a way of thinking about social categories that articulates similarity and difference, always inflected by relations of power. Research adopting an intersectional lens falls into several not entirely distinct groups: theoretical and methodological debates, evident in the sections Organizational Frameworks of Intersectionality and Methodologies, and applications of intersectional dynamics and political interventions, evident in the sections Intersectional Praxis and Transnational Intersectionalities. Intersectionality is also a deeply interdisciplinary concept, an analytic approach that can be found in almost all of the social sciences as well as the humanities; examples here are drawn from political science and psychology, in addition to the sociological examples appropriate to this series.


Most textbooks on societal inequalities focus on one system of inequality, typically gender, as primary; Anderson 2011 and Lee and Shaw 2011 are examples. Some, such as Landry 2007, incorporate analyses of intersections between gender and one or two additional systems, typically race and socioeconomic status (class). Relatively few textbooks adopt a fully intersectional approach, but the few that do, such as Newman 2012 and Ore 2010, are of high quality. Johnson 2006 offers an unusual analysis of inequality through the lens of privilege, as opposed to marginalization. Due to the paucity of texts in this area, many instructors use anthologies of essays on this theme.

  • Anderson, Margaret L. 2011. Thinking about women: Sociological perspectives on sex and gender. 9th ed. Boston: Allyn & Bacon.

    This text is suitable for introductory courses in gender studies. Written from a sociological perspective, it addresses the social construction of gender and gender dynamics in a number of key institutions such as education, the labor force, religion, crime, and politics. The approach is not highly intersectional.

  • Johnson, Allan G. 2006. Privilege, power, and difference. 2d ed. New York: McGraw-Hill.

    This text is distinct in focusing on privilege rather than oppression. Emphasizing class-based privilege, Johnson addresses how systems of privilege work, particularly how individualism enables lack of recognition and denial of privilege. This second edition includes analysis of issues of disabilities in addition to the analyses of race, gender, and class offered in the first edition.

  • Landry, Bart. 2007. Race, gender, and class: Theory and methods of analysis. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Prentice Hall.

    This text is a combination of textbook and anthology, the only such collection that organizes selections by methodology. Landry includes a short overview preceding each set of papers. After a preliminary theoretical overview, the two major sections address a number of aspects of qualitative and quantitative intersectional approaches. An excellent collection suitable for advanced undergraduates and graduate students.

  • Lee, Janet, and Susan M. Shaw. 2011. Women worldwide: Transnational feminist perspectives on women. New York: McGraw Hill.

    Suitable for introductory gender studies or international studies courses. Focuses primarily on gender, but is distinguished by its grounding in a transnational context. Sections focus on media, politics of the body, health, reproductive freedom, global economies, environmental politics, conflict, and cooperation. Not explicitly intersectional, but in the many examples there is considerable attention to intersections among gender and sexuality, nationality, and social class.

  • Newman, David M. 2012. Identities & inequalities: Exploring the intersections of race, class, gender, and sexuality. 2d ed. New York: McGraw-Hill.

    An excellent text focused explicitly on intersectional analyses of societal inequalities; suitable for both introductory and upper-level undergraduates. Organized in two sections: one addresses the social construction of systems of identities, the second the consequences of identities as expressed in systems of social inequalities.

  • Ore, Tracy E. 2010. The social construction of difference and inequality: Race, class, gender, and sexuality. 5th ed. New York: McGraw-Hill.

    This text, currently in its fifth edition, focuses on the processes that generate, maintain, and sometimes change societal inequalities. Ore offers a fully intersectional approach to inequalities associated with race, class, gender, and sexuality. Appropriate for all levels of undergraduate classes, although perhaps better suited to upper-level and graduate courses.

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