[eng] Magdalena Guerrero - Towards an intersectional approach in feminist studies

Within the framework of feminist epistemologies, the founding principles of the intersectional approach have had their origin in “third wave” feminisms. These have been characterized by battles related to the social structure which causes inequalities, the acknowledgement of diversities within the category of “woman”, and the fact that issues which appeared to be personal, could and should become political. 

Its argumentative origin can be found in the different movements  that took place during the fight for civil rights, where African American women began to raise awareness towards “their other differences” as a constitutive form of inequality (Guzmán, 2015).  

Thus, the origins of intersectionality date back to the 1970s in the United States, when black feminism begins to raise awareness towards the simultaneous discriminatory effects that can be produced regarding race, gender and social class. This denounces the biased vision of hegemonic or white feminism, which overlooked women of color and those who did not belong to the dominant class (Hill Collins, 1990/2000, Davis, 1981; Crenshaw, 1989 in Javiera Cubillos, 2015). 

During these years, feminism questions the use of the concept “woman” as a hegemonizing category for the theoretical and practical implications of the social construction of gender. Therefore, the articulations of gender and sexuality begin to be thought of in relation to other axes of domination, such as race and ethnicity. This is done not only in the form of an analogy but of an intersection, illustrating the simultaneity of these oppressions (Viveros and Gregorio, 2014).

This way, the intersectional perspective visibilizes the fact that women’s life is not only structured by their gender condition but also by different axes of social inequality as are class, race, disability, and sexual orientation, among others. For this reason, if we do not observe the ensemble of determinants, we cannot study how these different forms of inequality affect women’s everyday experiences. 

Intersectionality unfolds as a dynamic analytical framework where differences are studied within a particular socio-historical context. This entails that the multiplicity of differences are neither researched nor presented as static or permanent categories, but rather in relation to a singular and social context of reference. As Sales (2017) states, the intersectional approach understands that different categories of inequality and exclusion are not static or uniform but rather dynamic, diverse and in interaction with each other, creating realities and social principles of differentiation of a hybrid nature by combining more than one social category. It is therefore a “constitutive” intersection, as experiences of subordination are being produced in a singular manner.    

This way, intersectionality refers to a transdisciplinary theory aimed towards understanding the complexity of social identities and inequalities through an integrated approach. It refutes the compartmentalization and prioritization of the main axes of social differentiation such as categories of sex/gender, class, race, ethnicity, age, disability and sexual orientation, advocating for their interaction in the production and reproduction of social inequalities instead of a simple summatory acknowledgement of the different systems of oppression (Bilge, 2009). 

This intersectional social theory views reality as a multilevel social structure, understanding the different social levels relationally. In other words, as structures of inequality that position individuals in interlaced social situations (Sales, 2017). These structures or categories of inequality operate both on a microsocial level, because of their consideration of overlapped social categories and the multiple sources of power and privilege, and on a macrosocial level, questioning the ways in which systems of power influence the production, organization, and reproduction of inequalities (Bilge, 2009).  

It definitely constitutes a complex dynamic and relational perspective as it confronts us with notions which are neither evident nor clarifying of identities and social processes. On the contrary, it challenges us to take distance from unidimensional explanations as well as binary and dualist thought patterns, problematizing the analysis of social reality. 

Entering the discussion and considering the theoretical-practical status of this approach, Patricia Hill Collins suggested intersectionality as a paradigm drawing from structuralist feminism. Later, Ange Marie Hancock formalized it as a theoretical framework of beliefs and perspectives shared by a community, therefore providing a broad array of problems to be investigated. In other words, she understands it as both a normative and an empirical research theory by developing a theoretical-normative argument calling upon the need to collectively analyze different categories of exclusion, and as an approach to carry out empirical research emphasizing the interactions among these differences (Sales, 2017; Viveros, 2016). 

In this context, aiming to provide answers to issues of distributive justice, power and governance, as well as to more concrete and singular situations in individuals’ experience, Hancock (2000), in Bilge, (2009) and Viveros (2016), proposes six basic elements that allow for the identification of intersectionality as a research paradigm: 

1. In all complex problems and political processes there is an involvement of more than a single differentiation category.

2. Attention must be paid to all relevant and appropriate categories, but the relationship among them is variable and remains an open empirical question.

3. These differentiation categories are conceptualized as dynamic productions of individual and institutional factors which are simultaneously challenged and imposed on both an institutional and individual level. 

4. Each differentiation category is characterized by having inner diversity. 

5. An intersectional exploration examines these categories on different analytical levels and questions the interactions among levels. 

6. Employing intersectionality as a normative and empirical paradigm requires the consideration of both theoretical and empirical aspects of research processes.

Despite the fact that intersectionality has positioned itself as a theoretical-practical reference, the development of a methodology to address it is still incipient given its interdisciplinarity and applicability to multiple purposes (Zapata, Cuencua and Puga, 2014). However, works like Platero’s (2014) argue for the development of at least four phases which would be relevant in an intersectional methodological process: 1) to critically examine the analytical categories used to question social problems, 2) to be explicit about the reciprocal relationships that are created among social categories, 3) to display the invisible nature of certain realities or social problems that are “inconceivable”, questioning the categories which have been normalized and contributing to the illustration of those absences and social issues that are commonly not studied, and 4) to integrate a situated positionality of the subject who interrogates and constructs the reality under research, including our position, place, biases and interests, and thus contextualizing our positionality as researchers with regard to the studied phenomenon. 

Thus, the intersectional approach goes beyond solely acknowledging multiple systems of oppression, providing tools to identify and problematize the heterogeneity and continuity of those social problematics being researched.  

This is why it is not possible to speak of a unique intersectional methodology. Additionally, it has not yet been defined which social categories should be considered when conducting an analysis of such characteristics. In fact, gender scholars such as Doctor in Sociology Yuval-Davis asserts that the list of categories to be used can be endless and recognizes there is no universally applicable answer to the analysis of any given social reality (Sales, 2017). In this sense, Yuval-Davis states that the decision regarding what categories should form part of an intersectional analysis depends on which of them will be either considered imperative or secondary within a specific social and historical context of study. 

Intersectionality is far from being a homogeneous analytical framework. Rather, it resembles a combination of analytical approximations that share, at least, one heuristic root in the notion of social complexity (Walby et al, 2012 in Mora et al, 2018 p.71). This way, there are intersectional approaches that are developed in relation to the analytical levels expected to be understood, as Patricia Hill Collins (2000) in Viveros (2016) asserts. The objective is to address issues on a microsociological or macrosociological level as there is both an acknowledgement of the effects structures of social inequality have on individual lives and, on the other hand, a consideration for the macrosocial phenomena that question the implication of systems of power in the production, organization and maintenance of inequalities. 

According to Bilge (2009), these different levels of the intersectional approach would also be connected to the double affiliation of theoretical origin attributed to intersectionality: black feminism and postmodern/poststructuralist thought: while in the United States the majority of studies that use an intersectional approach are influenced by black feminism, in northern Europe intersectionality tends to be related to postmodern thought.  As Viveros (2016) argues, for authors like Kathy Davis intersectionality falls within the postmodern project of conceptualizing identities as multiple and fluid, thus encountering the Foucauldian perspective of power given the emphasys set on dynamic processes and on the deconstruction of normalizing and homogenizing categories. 

Therefore, based on the coexistence of diverse approaches and despite the fact that intersectionality reckons with an ancient problem within feminist research (such as the issue of power and logics of domination), it does so from a novel articulation between critical feminist theory relative to the effects of sexism, racism and social class; and critical methodology inspired in postmodern feminist theory (Davis, 2008 in Magliano, 2015). This reflects an understanding that identities and social processes vary, transform, and interact, diversifying the possibilities and challenging the ways in which social sciences are created. 


Bilge, Sirma. (2009). Théorisations féministes de l’intersectionnalité [Feminist theorizing of intersectionality]. Diogène, (225), 70–88. doi:10.3917/dio.225.0070.

Cubillos, Javiera. (2015). La importancia de la interseccionalidad para la investigación feminista [The importance of intersectionality for feminist research] . Oxímora Revista Internacional de Ética y Política, (7), 119-137. Retrieved from : 

Guzmán, Raquel. (2015). El paradigma interseccional: rutas teórico-metodológicas para el análisis de las desigualdades sociales [The intersectional paradigm: theoretical-methodological paths towards the analysis of social inequalities]. In Saletti-Cuesta, L. (2015). Traslaciones en los estudios feministas [Movements in feminist studies]. Perséfone Ediciones-Málaga Universidad. Electronic book. 

Magliano, María José. (2015). Interseccionalidad y migraciones: potencialidades y desafíos [Intersectionality and migrations: opportunities and challenges]. Estudios Feministas, 23 (3), 691-712. http://dx.doi.org/10.1590/0104-026X2015v23n3p691

Mora, Claudia., Kottow, Andrea., Osses, Valentina., Ceballos, Marco. (editores) (2018). El género furtivo. La evidencia interdisciplinar del género en el Chile actual [Furtive gender: interdisciplinary gender evidence in present Chile] . Santiago: LOM. 

Platero, Raquel. (2014). ¿Es el análisis interseccional una metodología feminista y queer? [Is intersectional analysis a queer and feminist methodology?].  In Mendía, Irantzu., Luxán, Marta., Legarreta, Matxalen., Guzmán, Gloria., Zirion, Iker., Azpiazu, J. (eds.). Otras formas de (re)conocer. Reflexiones, herramientas y aplicaciones desde la investigación feminista [Other forms of (re)cognizing. Reflections, tools and uses]. País Vasco University, hegoa and SIMRF: Donostia-San Sebastián. Available at:  

Sales, Tomeu (2017). Repensando la interseccionalidad desde la teoría feminista [Rethinking intersectionality from feminist theory]. AGORA-Papeles de Filosofía 36(2), 229-256. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.15304/ag.36.2.3711

Viveros, Mara. & Gregorio, Carmen.  (2014). Dossier: Sexualidades e interseccionalidad en América Latina, el Caribe y su diáspora [Dossier: Sexualities and intersectionality in Latin America and the Caribbean and their diaspora]. Revista Estudios Sociales, (49), 9-16. Doi: 10.7440/res49.2014.01.
Viveros, Mara. (2016). La interseccionalidad: una aproximación situada a la dominación [Intersectionality: a situated approximation to domination].  Debate Feminista, (52), 1–17. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.df.2016.09.005

Zapata, Martha., Cuenca, Andrea. y Puga, Ismael. (2014). Guía desde un enfoque interseccional. Metodología para el Diseño y Aplicación de Indicadores de Inclusión Social y Equidad en Instituciones de Educación Superior de América Latina [Guide from an intersectional approach: A methodology for the Design and Application of Social Inclusion and Equity Indicators in Latin American Higher Education Institutions] . Berlin: MISEAL. Retrieved from: 

* Magdalena Guerrero
Woman, Mother of two girls, Feminist, Sociologist, Master’s degree in Sociology, Ph.D. Candidate in Social Studies. She has experience in social research, analysis and development of knowledge related to studies in education, gender, inequalities and qualitative methodologies. Author of the children’s book “We Are Diversity”, 2020 (La Bonita Publishing House)  

[1] Translated from the Spanish by Carolina Trivelli.

No hay comentarios:

Publicar un comentario