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date: 22 October 2021

Intersectionality in U.S. Educational Researchlocked

Intersectionality in U.S. Educational Researchlocked

  • Lisa SibbettLisa SibbettUniversity of Washington

Summary

Intersectionality is celebrated in education research for its capacity to illuminate how identities like race, gender, class, and ability interact and shape individual experiences, social practices, institutions, and ideologies. However, although widely invoked among educational researchers, intersectionality is rarely unpacked or theorized. It is treated as a simple, settled concept despite the fact that, outside education research, it has become in the early 21st century one of the most hotly debated concepts in social science research. Education researchers should therefore clarify and, where appropriate, complicate their uses of intersectionality. One important issue requiring clarification concerns the question: “Who is intersectional?” While some critical social scientists represent intersectionality as a theory of multiple marginalization, others frame it as a theory of multiple identities. Either choice entails theoretical and practical trade-offs. When researchers approach intersectionality as a theory of multiple marginalization, they contribute to seeking redress for multiply marginalized subjects’ experiences of violence and erasure, yet this approach risks representing multiply marginalized communities as damaged, homogenous, and without agency, while leaving the processes maintaining dominance uninterrogated. When scholars approach intersectionality as a theory of multiple identities, meanwhile, they may supply a fuller account of the processes by which advantage and disadvantage co-constitute one another, but they risk recentering Whiteness, deflecting conversations about racism, and marginalizing women of color in the name of inclusivity. A review of over 60 empirical and conceptual papers in educational research shows that such trade-offs are not often made visible in our field. Education researchers should therefore clarify their orientations to intersectionality: They should name the approach(es) they favor, make arguments for why such approaches are appropriate to a particular project, and respond thoughtfully to potential limitations.

Subjects

  • Educational Administration and Leadership

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