In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Intersectionality and Education

  • Introduction
  • Intersectionality’s Development in Feminist Theory and Praxis
  • Intersectionality’s Early Expressions in Education
  • Textbooks and Anthologies
  • Journals
  • Identity Constructions
  • Symbolic Representations
  • K–12 Education
  • Teacher Education
  • Higher Education
  • Comparative and International Education
  • Educational Policy

Education Intersectionality and Education
Carl Grant, Elisabeth Zwier
  • LAST REVIEWED: 21 April 2021
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 July 2017
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756810-0188


Intersectionality theories, intersectionally informed methodologies, and intersectional praxis seek to explain, critique, and transform relationships of oppression and privilege among individuals, groups, and institutions. These shifting power relationships are co-constructed through identity categories and justified by symbolic representations. Given the plurality of intersectional theories, no one definition can encompass the diverse strands of scholarship that make up this arena. However, Winker and Degele 2011 proposes a useful multilevel analytical approach that traces how intersectional privilege and oppression are created, maintained, and contested (see also Analytical Frameworks). The researchers’ framework is key to understanding the organization of this article around three concepts: identity constructions (how difference is made and unmade between the self and others), symbolic representations (norms, ideologies, images), and social structures (class, gender, race, and body), with their accompanying power relations (classisms, heteronormativisms, racisms, and bodyisms) (see also Winker and Degele 2011). Work using intersectionality theories in the field of education may be focused on microlevel phenomena, such as individual identity development and interpersonal relationships; meso-level phenomena, in the case of school policies and practices that respond to intersectional identities; or macro-level phenomena, like educational funding schemes that produce intersectional privilege or oppression for particular groups. Scholarly work in the field of education that predates the use of the term “intersectionality” speaks of human relations, interactions, integration, and bridging perspectives (see also Intersectionality’s Early Expressions in Education). Scholars and educators in the cross-disciplinary field of intersectionality and education draw on research about individual and group experiences within schools and universities, as well as the scholarship, activism, and policy work of black feminist theorists and sociologists (see also Intersectionality’s Development in Feminist Theory and Praxis). Intersectional research in education has kept a dual focus on theory and practice, though the latter tends to have primacy given the discipline’s applied nature (see also K–12 Education, Teacher Education, Higher Education, Comparative and International Education, Educational Policy).

Intersectionality’s Development in Feminist Theory and Praxis

Intersectionality theories develop from the groundwork laid by proto-intersectional thinkers and writers who articulate the intersections and power relations of identity categories like gender and class, or race and gender. Early intersectional thinking develops in the context of social movements: women’s suffrage, labor organizing, abolitionist movements, second-wave feminist movements, civil rights movements, and others. In the 1980s, scholars in a range of fields, including black feminist theory, sociology, and critical legal theory, seek concepts to describe the experiences that result from multiple identities interacting, overlapping, and even competing, in the case of identity politics. Writings from this era fit into three parallel streams: black feminism in the United States, black feminism in the United Kingdom, and critiques of Western feminism. US authors include black feminists who argue that the predominately white feminist movement excludes their agendas. The women of the Combahee River Collective (see Combahee River Collective 1981, originally published in 1977) first use the language of “interlocking systems” of oppression and privilege to describe their experiences. Similar developments occur within black British feminism in the United Kingdom, as Anthias and Yuval-Davis 1983 discusses. Mohanty 1984 and Anzaldúa 1987 propose a postcolonial, global, Third World feminist vision, adding identity categories like language, place, immigration, and citizenship status to the well-established triad. By 1989, Kimberlé Crenshaw coins the term “intersectionality,” crystalizing earlier thinking and writing on multiple identities and oppressions (see Crenshaw 1989). In the 1990s, work on intersectionality advances feminist theory; adds further identities to the race, class, and gender triad; and articulates key elements of intersectional methodologies and praxis (see also Analytical Frameworks). Hill Collins 1990 proposes four interrelated domains of power: structural, disciplinary, hegemonic, and interpersonal, which becomes a foundational framework for the field. Mirza 1992 addresses structural inequalities, including immigration status. Bottomley, et al. 1991 collects contributions from Southeast Asia, Australia, New Zealand, and the Pacific Islands, introducing indigenous identity and caste as identities for consideration. In the 2000s, intersectionality studies emerge and evolve as a feminist, interdisciplinary field with its own critiques, genealogies, and theoretical and methodological frameworks (see also Analytical Frameworks). The growing popular awareness of intersectionality, alongside further academic development for theory and praxis, indicates its ongoing relevance for understanding issues of oppression and privilege.

  • Anthias, Floya, and Nira Yuval-Davis. 1983. Contextualizing feminism: Gender, ethnic, and class divisions. Feminist Review 15:62–75.

    Develops intersectionality theories and notions to understand the workings of identity and oppression in the United Kingdom, with applicability to a wide range of contexts. Posits the notion of “triple oppression” of race, class, gender. Sociological treatise on issues in feminist thinking. Useful for historians, feminist scholars, and graduate students.

  • Anzaldúa, Gloria. 1987. Borderlands—la fontera: The new mestiza. San Francisco: Aunt Lute.

    Chicana feminist author adds to the race, gender, and social class triad, considering the nexus of sexual orientation, language, place, and nationality/immigration status. Through a “border crossing” metaphor, opens up space for both intrapersonal and interpersonal examination of identity and difference. Essential reading for feminist educators and scholars.

  • Bottomley, Gillian, Marie de Lepervanche, and Jeannie Martin, eds. 1991. Intersexions: Gender/class/culture/ethnicity. Saint Leonards, Australia: Allen and Unwin.

    Delineates how race, class, and gender analyses extend the boundaries of knowledge of single-category studies, but fail to capture other intersections. Critiques limited explanations of power relationships and symbolic representations that perpetuate oppression. Integrates identity constructions such as indigenous identity, ethnicity, caste, and immigration. Invaluable insights for graduate students and researchers.

  • Combahee River Collective. 1981. A black feminist statement. In This bridge called my back: Writings by radical women of color. Edited by Cherríe Moraga and Gloria Anzaldúa, 210–218. Watertown, MA: Persephone.

    Asserts the intersecting identity axes of race, class, gender, and sexual orientation produce oppression. A public statement of a collective of scholars, activists, and practitioners who seek to expose “interlocking systems” of power. Claim intersectionality operates on individual and structural levels. Seminal intersectionality text for all audiences.

  • Crenshaw, Kimberlé W. 1989. Demarginalizing the intersection of race and sex: A black feminist critique of antidiscrimination doctrine, feminist theory and antiracist politics. University of Chicago Legal Forum 1:139–167.

    Critical legal scholar coins the term “intersectionality.” Using a metaphor of intersecting roads and traffic, she argues the needs of women of color cannot be addressed from a race-only or gender-only perspective, which had been common practice in identity politics and antidiscrimination legislation. Foundational reading for all audiences.

  • Hill Collins, Patricia. 1990. Black feminist thought: Knowledge, consciousness and the politics of empowerment. New York: Routledge.

    Black feminist theorist proposes the “matrix of domination,” an alternative metaphor for capturing the complexity of intersectional identities lived out in four interrelated domains of power: structural, disciplinary, hegemonic, and interpersonal. Argues intersectionality and interlocking are complementary concepts. Essential text useful for graduate students and researchers.

  • Mirza, Heidi Safia. 1992. Young, female and black. London: Routledge.

    Examines whether Afro-Caribbean females raised in Britain have equal opportunities. Finds a pattern of lack of success in the labor market. The author explains that race, gender, and class inequality remain structural, despite meritocratic ideologies. Draws on examples of representations in American, British, and Caribbean literature. Relevant for educators and feminist researchers.

  • Mohanty, Chandra Tapalde. 1984. Under Western eyes: Feminist scholarship and colonial discourses. Boundary 12.3 (Spring–Autumn): 333–358.

    DOI: 10.2307/302821

    Critiques Western feminist movements and scholarship for excluding Third World women’s lived experiences in their work. Claims First World feminists colonize their global counterparts, wherein the former are saviors and the latter victims. Reimagines feminism for and by women of color. Relevant for graduate students and scholars.

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