When different forms of discrimination cross, it is called intersectionality.
- Prejudice and Group Thinking
How is a disabled woman discriminated against? What does discrimination look like for individuals associated with multiple groups affected by discrimination? These questions are central to what is known as intersectional studies.
The term "intersection" means a crossroads, and when used in the context of discrimination and categorization, precisely refers to the idea that different forms of discrimination can intersect, interact, or even pull in different directions.
The concept was first introduced by lawyer Kimberlé Crenshaw in as a critique of what she believed was a one-dimensional understanding of discrimination in traditional legal thinking. She pointed out how Black women are doubly oppressed, both as women and as Black. This intersection, the intersectionality, between being Black and being a woman made their situation different from both White women and Black men.
Crenshaw used the intersection as a metaphor for what happens when two grounds of discrimination intersect. Like cars moving in and out of the intersection in all directions, discrimination can also have different directions. When an accident happens at the intersection, the involved cars can come from various directions, often from all at once. This is how it is for a Black woman affected by discrimination, according to Crenshaw. The harm can result from discrimination based on gender or race. Or it can result from these two forms of discrimination working together
After the introduction of the concept, there have been numerous studies on how different grounds of discrimination can interact, especially how the categories of gender, "race"/ethnicity, and class provide a complex picture of discrimination.
Society's Static Categories
In Crenshaw's intersection metaphor, the roads correspond to the categories in society that can be the basis for discrimination, such as gender, ethnicity, and class. The metaphor illustrates how these are distinct categories in society, separated from each other like roads, but at the same time, they can meet and intersect.
“Power distribution in society is to some extent static: we find asymmetry between men and women, between White and Black, between the rich and the poor.
Much of the research on intersectionality has precisely dealt with different forms of discrimination based on such clear categories in society. It involves ordinary categories by which people are sorted in society, whether explicit, like gender, or more implicit, as is perhaps the case with class distinctions today.
Behind this lies an understanding that discrimination based on these categories is always present in our society. Power distribution in society is to some extent static: we find asymmetry between men and women, between White and Black, between the rich and the poor. Inequality in power is found at all levels of society, even in the social interaction in a school. However, intersection, the meeting of different categories, contributes to creating complexity, as Crenshaw's intersection metaphor clearly illustrates.
Group formations at the local level
Many have pointed out that a static understanding of power asymmetry, based only on the most significant categories at the societal level, such as gender, ethnicity, and class, does not capture enough complexity. Through numerous studies, researchers have shown how the distribution of power and social inequality in a specific context does not necessarily reproduce the power asymmetry found in society.
“For example, the relationship between genders in a schoolyard does not necessarily replicate the relationship between genders at the societal level.
For example, the relationship between genders in a schoolyard does not necessarily replicate the relationship between genders at the societal level. The picture is complex, so, for instance, a group of girls can be exclusive to a specific group of boys. This does not mean that they do not also adhere to societal gender roles or that the boys do not, in some situations, enjoy their privileges as men. But it means that the picture is more intricate and complex
At the local level, other categories also come into play, and the result can be a shift in the significance of categories such as gender, ethnicity, and race. Researchers in this tradition are therefore concerned with openness to how different categories are filled with meaning in the specific context of the relevant social group.
To refer again to Crenshaw's intersection metaphor: neither the design of the roads nor which roads are relevant is predetermined. It must be investigated in the encounter with each new social situation. We could say that these researchers are also concerned with how the roads are made, not just with the meeting of roads that are made in advance. They are concerned with how people create or perform gender, ethnicity, class, and other categories.
Kimberle Crenshaw, «Demarginalizing the Intersection of Race and Sex: A Black Feminist Critique of Antidiscrimination Doctrine, Feminist Theory and Antiracist Politics,» The University of Chicago Legal Forum (1989): 149.
Julia Orupabo, «Interseksjonalitet i praksis: utfordringer med å anvende et interseksjonalitetsperspektiv i empirisk forskning,» Sosiologisk tidsskrift 22, no. 4 (2014).
Ingunn Marie Eriksen, «Young Norwegians. Belonging and becoming in a multiethnic high school,» red. (2013).