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Intersectional Analysis

A Contribution of Feminism to Sociology

Ann Denis
University of Ottawa

abstract: This essay on feminism focuses on intersectional analysis, an emerging,

important theoretical contribution by feminism to sociology. Intersectional analy-
sis involves the concurrent analyses of multiple, intersecting (and interacting)
sources of subordination/oppression. There are early examples of publications
based on this type of analysis around 1980 in North America and Britain, but it
was only a decade later that its use started to become more widespread. Its devel-
opment at different rates in various parts of the world is selectively explored, as
well as some of the types of publications in which it has been used.

keywords: Canada/Québec ✦ class ✦ Commonwealth Caribbean ✦ ethnicity ✦

feminism ✦ France ✦ gender ✦ intersectional analysis ✦ race

In this essay, I focus on intersectional analysis, arguably an important –

even the most important (McCall, 2005) – recent theoretical contribution
(and challenge) of feminism to sociological analysis. As we shall see, it is
also a contested contribution (see Knapp, 2005). Intersectional analysis
involves the concurrent analyses of multiple, intersecting sources of sub-
ordination/oppression, and is based on the premise that the impact of a
particular source of subordination may vary, depending on its combina-
tion with other potential sources of subordination (or of relative privi-
lege). I argue that intersectional analysis can be understood as an outcome
of applying the same type of critiques within feminism that (second wave)
feminist sociologists had applied, in the 1960s and early 1970s, in their
first challenge to sociology. Their critique was that women were invisible
in most sociological theorizing and analysis – an outcome of the (often
implicit) assumption that men’s experience was both universal and nor-
mative, except in (the primarily) affective relations within the family. I
have chosen to concentrate in this essay on the development, at different

International Sociology ✦ September 2008 ✦ Vol. 23(5): 677–694

© International Sociological Association
SAGE (Los Angeles, London, New Delhi and Singapore)
DOI: 10.1177/0268580908094468

International Sociology Review of Books Vol. 23 No. 5

rates, of this approach in selected societies with which I happen to be

most familiar – particularly Canada/Québec and France, along with the
Commonwealth Caribbean. Included in this exploration is an overview of
the types of publications in which it has been used.
Although there are significant divergences among the various currents
of feminism within sociology, and recognizing that some have felt that the
diversity precludes any common definition, I posit that most (if not all)
feminist scholars within sociology share certain assumptions.1 These
include: that women are legitimate subjects of study; that they are socially
constructed (as men are) rather than biologically determined; and that, as
a social category, they have been subject to subordination,2 at least since
the advent of private property, a fact which must be recognized and incor-
porated into the analysis. Associated with this last point is a commitment
to social change3 in order to eliminate women’s subordination: thus
analysis is engaged rather than neutral. Additional widely shared prem-
ises are that analyses are partial – there is a rejection of universal ‘laws’
that automatically apply to both genders; and that the dualisms, or binary
distinctions, of Enlightenment thought are to be questioned – perhaps
most particularly the dualism of male vs female, with the associated
dualisms of culture vs nature and the public vs the private sphere (see, for
example, Barriteau, 1994; Eichler, 1985; Juteau-Lee, 1981; Nicholson, 1990).
Given the challenges that these premises posed to mainstream socio-
logical scholarship, it is probably not surprising that feminist publications
mainly took the form of edited books and special issues of journals; their
initial absence from university presses and articles and books reviews in
regular issues of ‘mainstream’ journals was notable. An early Canadian
initiative, in which feminist sociologists have been active, was published
(1972–7) as The Canadian Newsletter of Research on Women/Recherches sur la
femme, Bulletin d’information canadienne. Renamed and redesigned in 1978,
as Resources for Feminist Research/Documentation sur la recherche féministe, it
published abstracts of Canadian and international research, book reviews,
bibliographies, information about archival holdings and about innovative
developments in the teaching of women’s studies, serving as a communi-
cation tool for and about the emerging interdisciplinary field. Interdiscip-
linary feminist journals that included sociology content began publication
in the mid-1970s. These include Feminist Studies (1972) and Signs (1975)
in the US; Atlantis (1975) in Canada;4 Questions féministes [Feminist
Questions] (1977) in France; Women’s Studies International Quarterly (1978),
which became Women’s Studies International Forum (1982); and Feminist
Review (1979) in Great Britain. Thus, by the 1980s, feminist scholarship
was becoming institutionalized, and various theoretical currents were
discernable within it.

Denis Intersectional Analysis

Intersectional Analysis – In Practice if

Not in Name
By the early 1980s, however, the early currents of feminism (liberal/func-
tionalist, Marxist, radical, socialist5) – both within the academy and in
feminism as a social movement – were beginning to be criticized by some
feminists, who felt that the specifics of their own subordination were
excluded: the analyses, often ostensibly generalized to all women, were in
fact premised on the experiences and priorities of a minority – Caucasian,
able-bodied, usually heterosexual women from the economic North, who
were often middle class, although sometimes working class. Thus femi-
nism’s criticism of the homogenizing tendencies of mainstream sociology
were now being levelled, from within, against itself. In the interests of
stressing gender specificities, other aspects of difference were not being
Intersectional analysis is an attempt to address this felt need for more
complex analyses. Without calling it ‘intersectional’, by the early 1980s a
number of feminist scholars were tackling the challenging task of inte-
grating ‘gender’ as a variable into the analyses of class or ethnicity/race,6
integrating ethnicity/race in analyses of women’s subordination, or occa-
sionally integrating all three – gender, ethnicity/race and class – at the
same time. In the discussion that follows, I concentrate on debates related
to gender, ethnicity/race and class, but sexual orientation, age and
(dis)ability are other variables on which there is an important literature
within the intersectional approach. Here are some early examples of what
has come to be known as intersectional analyses. Chosen to highlight the
simultaneous development in different English-speaking societies (and
among minority French speakers, (Francophones) in Canada), they illus-
trate a variety of bases of dissatisfaction with the status quo in feminist
scholarship, in all cases partly related to ethnicity/race.
The Combahee River Collective (1978), Davis (1981) and hooks (1981,
1984) are early examples of such analysis in the US. The Combahee River
Collective, for instance, identified anti-racism and anti-sexism as their ini-
tial unifying bases, supplemented as their analysis developed by critiques
of heterosexism and economic oppression under capitalism (Combahee
River Collective, 1978: 364). In fact, the early American writings were all
couched in terms of racism against Blacks, a form of oppression which
(with rare exceptions) white feminism did not accommodate in its analysis.
Juteau-Lee and Roberts (1981), la Fédération nationale des femmes
canadiennes-françaises [The National Federation of French-Canadian
Women)] (1981) and Denis (1981), writing in Canada, focused on ethnic-
ity, with race as one marker, others being language and various European

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ethnic origins. In their discussion of ‘Ethnicity and Femininity’, Juteau-

Lee and Roberts, as co-editors of a special issue of Canadian Ethnic Studies
(1981), used intersecting circles to illustrate how ethnicity, class and gen-
der contributed alone, and in interaction, as material and normative bases
of domination, none of which necessarily had priority. Denis’s article in
the same issue of Canadian Ethnic Studies examined the intersection of
class (operationalized as occupation, to measure socioeconomic status)
and ethnicity for women (and, to a lesser extent, for men) in two
provinces in Canada with large but ethnically very different populations.
In Britain, while some authors, such as Carby (1982) and Amos and
Parmar (1984) focused on race, often introducing the continuing impact of
Britain’s colonial past, others, such as Anthias and Yuval-Davis (1983),
considered ethnicity a more inclusive (and therefore more appropriate)
concept. They also pointed out the relevance of migration status as an
additional marker of ethnicity under some circumstances.
During the same period, in the Commonwealth Caribbean, the Women
in the Caribbean Project (WICP), which initiated a wide-ranging study of
women in the Caribbean, resulted in a number of publications (for exam-
ple, Gill and Massiah, 1984; and two special issues of Social and Economic
Studies, 1986a, 1986b), and helped lay the ground for the institutionalization
of gender and development studies at the University of the West Indies.
The research programme was coordinated from the Institute of Social and
Economic Research of that university, which published most of the mono-
graphs resulting from the research. In this work, mainly about the Afro-
Caribbean experience, the inadequacy of certain ‘Northern’ concepts for the
analysis of this experience was highlighted, a notable example being the
concept of ‘work’, which, in the Northern literature at the time, was mainly
limited to paid employment. The WICP chose instead to explore women’s
‘sources of livelihood’, and, drawing on the understandings of the women
studied, to consider as work ‘those activities which are necessary to the
daily survival of themselves and their households, as well as those which
earn an income’ (Massiah, 1986: 227). This conceptualization was of partic-
ular relevance for the analysis of Afro-Caribbean working-class women.

Intersectional Analysis since the 1990s

The expression ‘intersectionality’ itself was coined by Crenshaw (1989),
working in the US. In Canada, the term ‘intersectional analysis’ has been
associated with Daiva Stasiulis’s useful article of 1999, although she had
earlier (1987) discussed the concept as ‘rainbow feminism’ in a special
issue of Resources for Feminist Research on ‘Immigrant Women’.
It is probably not by chance that all of these initiatives came from fem-
inists who, because of their sociological awareness in combination with

Denis Intersectional Analysis

their own – sometimes contradictory – social locations, had consciously

experienced being a minority or being marginalized, and found the femi-
nist tools at their disposal lacking.
Analyses of sources of domination done during the 1960s and 1970s
often assumed that one source (typically class or gender) had primacy,
and any others were necessarily secondary. Alternatively, there was the
assumption that the effects were mechanically additive. Both approaches
were important and the source of heated debates during the 1970s and
1980s – see Juteau-Lee and Roberts (1981) and Resources for Feminist
Research (1987) for Canadian overviews of these debates and articles illus-
trating various positions on them. Intersectional analysis rejects such an a
priori assumption, and also a mechanical addition of sources of domina-
tion. Instead, a much more sophisticated analysis is necessary in order to
simultaneously take into account the intersection of multiple social loca-
tions, each socially defined, with the constraints or opportunities that
such a definition can entail. What is important is the configuration of one’s
social location based in each element of the triad of class, ethnicity/race
and gender as roots of oppression (and, in some cases, with other sources
as well). Over time, a further refinement has been largely accepted: the
importance of contextualizing the different social locations in terms of
time, place and other intersecting social locations. This could be seen as
an extension of the premise of feminism, mentioned at the beginning of
this essay, rejecting universal ‘laws’. The contextualization involves rec-
ognizing that the meaning of a social location7 – a social construction – is
not static. It also involves recognizing that the salience of our various
social locations, whether for ourselves or our social environment, is not
static either.
Since the late 1980s, intersectional analysis, implicitly or explicitly, has
become quite widely used by American, British and English Canadian
feminists,8 and feminists from the economic South, especially in studies of
permutations of ethnicity/race, migration and citizenship. Since the
American and British literature is more widely known and referenced, I
identify Canadian sources as well as a selection of sources from the eco-
nomic South. There has been a rich variety of both quantitative (e.g. Boyd,
1999; Denis and Ollivier, 2003) and qualitative work (e.g. Abu-Laban and
Gabriel, 2002; Agnew, 1996; Bannerji, 2000; Calliste and Dei, 2000; Ng,
1996; Stasiulis and Yuval-Davis, 1995; Tastsoglou and Dobrowolsky, 2006).
The qualitative work ranges from theoretical and reflective pieces
through ethnographic studies to studies with a definite policy focus.
Feminists from the economic South have been important in the devel-
opment of postcolonial analysis, which, by its very nature, lends itself to
the use of intersectional analysis. Mohanty (1988) and Alexander and
Mohanty (1997) have become classic sources. The ethnic/racial diversity

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and colonial heritage of the Commonwealth Caribbean has also impacted

on scholarship about that region, revealing implicitly or explicitly the use
of intersectional analyses (see, for example, Bailey and Leo-Rhynie, 2004;
Barriteau, 2001, 2003; Feminist Review, 1998; Leo-Rhynie et al., 1997;
Mohammed, 2002a, 2002b; Mohammed and Shepherd, 1988; Reddock,
2004). Reddock (1998: 52) underlines contributions from the Caribbean
region ‘as a discourse on difference and feminism’ that, unlike Northern dis-
cussions of difference, ‘clearly identifies men of competing ethnicities as
very much implicated in . . . processes [of difference and power]’
(Reddock, 1998: 54).
This very summary overview gives an indication of the richness and
variety of feminist publications in English that use intersectionality. In
contrast, intersectional analysis is in its infancy in France, and to a lesser
degree in French-speaking Canada/Québec. It is my impression that in
the French-language feminist development literature on the economic
South by Québécoise sociologists and anthropologists this approach has
been more widely integrated (e.g. Dagenais, 1999; Dagenais and Piché,
1994; Labrecque, 2001; Nadal, 2003) than in literature about Québec, where
Francophones are dominant and research about ethnic minorities has
developed more slowly than in English-speaking Canada. Apart from a
recently established section on intersectionality within CEETUM (Centre
of Ethnic Studies of the Montréal Universities), the various research cen-
tres on ethnicity in Montréal – the CEETUM, the Montréal Centre of the
Metropolis Project9 and the CRIEC (Research Centre on Immigration,
Ethnicity and Citizenship) – at the Université du Québec à Montréal have
not had a strong focus on gender issues, while the latter university’s IREF
(Institute for Feminist Research and Studies) has not had a particular
interest in ethnicity. Thus, few of the publications from any of these units
have had an intersectional focus, although for some individual scholars,
such as Danielle Juteau (e.g Juteau, 1999a, 1999b) and Sirma Bilge (the
founding coordinator of the intersectionality section of CEETUM), this is
an important focus within their research. In Québec, the relative lack of
interest in intersectionality can be related to the fairly recent feminist
interest in ethnicity and immigration – as distinct from the national ques-
tion couched in terms of Québec’s project for political independence (to
escape subordination within Canada), and the focus within studies of eth-
nicity and immigration on the integration of recent immigrants within
this national project.
In literature by and about minority Francophones10 in Canada, inter-
sectionality has, in contrast, been recognized as a valuable analytical tool
for some time (Adam, 1996; Côté et al., 2001; Denis, 2001; Garceau, 1992;
Hébert et al., 1997; Michaud, 2005). Much of the time, the focus in this lit-
erature has been on minority Francophone women as marginalized on the

Denis Intersectional Analysis

basis of gender from minority Francophone men or else as minority

Francophone women, marginalized on the basis of language from
Anglophone women and on the basis of national identity by Québécoise
women, for whom French is not a minority language. Some analyses also
contrast (explicitly or implicitly) the degree of linguistic subordination
experienced by women in the different regions of Canada, which vary in
both the percentage and absolute size of their French-speaking minorities.
The increasing presence of Francophone immigrants, particularly from
Africa and the Middle East, is adding a new dimension of subordination,
which is very gradually being incorporated into scholarly research and
publication (Côté et al., 2001 and one or two articles in Adam, 1996,
although the title of the publication and of the conference on which it was
based promises more than is delivered in that respect).
Turning now to literature published in France, it is only very recently that
there is much indication of an interest in intersectionality. It has been sug-
gested that the French republican tradition, which emphasizes the rights of
citizens undifferentiated by gender or ethnicity/race is a reason for the late-
ness of this development. Although pioneers were writing about feminism
and women’s socially constructed subordination from 1949 (in the case of
Simone de Beauvoir) and from the 1970s (in the cases of Andrée Michel,
Christine Delphy and Colette Guillaumin), little of the work was concerned
with unpacking and analysing differentiation among women. As in the case
of the French language Québec literature, consideration of differentiation
among women has been more evident in work about development in the
economic South (e.g. Bisilliat, 1996, 1997; Bisilliat and Fieloux, 1983),
although here the analysis typically concentrates on women in one or two
social locations (the intracategorical approach of McCall, which is discussed
later), rather than analysing the intersections of their multiple social loca-
tions. Whereas since the 1990s (and to some extent before that) feminist
journals in Canada, Great Britain and the US have regularly included indi-
vidual articles and periodic special issues that have incorporated elements
of an intersectional approach, it is the absence of such topics, until very
recently, that has characterized Nouvelles questions féministes [New Feminist
Questions], the successor in France to Questions féministes [Feminist
Questions]. Carneiro (2005) introduces the critiques of white feminism by
Black Latin American feminists, but from the perspective of issues pertinent
to a ‘foreign’ society, Brazil, rather than France. In fact in terms of pertinence
to France, it was in Revue européenne des migrations internationales [European
Journal of International Migration] that I located an early discussion – in 2005
– on intersectionality. Here Poiret (2005) introduces readers to North
American analyses of intersectionality, as Haase-Dubosc and Lal (2006) do
the following year in Nouvelle questions féministes [New Feminist Questions] in
an article about the theoretical contributions of English-language

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postcolonial theory to feminism. These topics are presented as issues whose

relevance for French feminism is only now being examined. The tenor of
preoccupations within France is underlined by the title of Christine
Delphy’s (2006) article in Nouvelles questions féministes on ‘Antisexisme ou
antiracisme? Un faux dilemme’ [Antisexism or Antiracism? A False
Dilemma]. It is in relation to the controversy over the acceptability of the
wearing of the headscarf by Islamic women in such public places as schools
(as epitomizing issues of the separation of church and state with the French
Republic) that the issues of intersectionality are discussed by Delphy. The
controversies in the public arena related to the headscarf began in 1989 and
led, in 2004, to a new law, which, according to her, restricts the freedom of
conscience and of expression that had been guaranteed in the 1905 law sep-
arating church and state (Delphy, 2006: 82). Arguing in favour of an inter-
sectional analysis, although one which, implicitly, attributes primacy to
subordination based on patriarchy, Delphy critiques positions (expressed
both by male ‘supporters’11 of women’s equality and by some feminists)
that demonize the headscarf as an attack on women’s individual liberty
because the headscarf is seen as symbolizing women’s submission. Her
overview of the debates about whether anti-sexism and anti-racism are
mutually incompatible, and injunctions to conform to the (Eurocentric)
norms of the egalitarian French Republic harks back to the critiques of
white feminism expressed in the US by Black women more than a quarter
century earlier. There seems to be, in French scholarly literature, a certain
reticence to analyse (or even acknowledge) difference, except that based on
class, because of its incompatibility with the republican ideal: thus ethnic
relations and, to a lesser extent, feminism have been somewhat marginal-
ized in France. Religion and citizenship/migration status seem to be the
main markers of ethnicity that are now being used in its analysis.
Describing intersectionality rather critically as a ‘travelling theory’ that is
only now being considered within German sociology, Knapp (2005: 256)
argues that this lateness reflects the ‘general late-coming of German-
speaking feminism compared with the transnational pacesetters of US-
American feminism’, a shift in meanings of the concepts of the triad
‘race–class–gender’ when used within the German intellectual tradition,
and the fact that it has been a younger generation of feminists who, as a
result of their research on migration and/or their lived experience as the
children of migrants, have promoted the use of intersectionality. Thus, as I
previously noted about societies where an interest in intersectionality
developed earlier, the initiators have often been those whose biography has
sensitized them to the impact of the marginalization resulting from multi-
ple subordinate social locations or the contradictions of a combination of
subordinate and more privileged social locations.

Denis Intersectional Analysis

Doing Intersectional Analysis

The concept of intersectional analysis may seem banal in itself, but imple-
menting it in empirical analysis, whether quantitative or qualitative, is
challenging when it involves taking into account three or more variables
concurrently. While it is true that multivariate analysis gives numerical
results fairly readily, developing an intersectional interpretation of them is
less obvious. Proposing generalizations about the interaction of several
variables on the basis of qualitative data about relatively small samples is
not easy to do either. In fact, this may account for the criticism (see Knapp,
2005, for example) that the litany of ‘gender–class–race (ethnicity)’ is often
not accompanied by an analysis that actually is intersectional, either the-
oretically or methodologically.
Arguing that feminists have written relatively little about the method-
ologies for studying intersectionality, McCall distinguishes a continuum
of three main ‘approaches to the study of multiple, intersecting, and com-
plex social relations’, based on ‘how they understand and use analytical
categories to explore the complexity of intersectionality in social life’: anti-
categorical complexity, intracategorical complexity and intercategorical
complexity (McCall, 2005: 1772–3). The first approach, she says, decon-
structs analytical categories; the third uses them strategically; while the
middle one – which she suggests (McCall, 2005: 1773) inaugurated the
study of intersectionality – (intracategorical complexity), like the first,
‘interrogates the boundary-making and boundary-defining process itself’,
while, like the third, it ‘acknowledges the stable and even durable rela-
tionships that social categories represent at any given point in time’,
focusing on ‘particular social groups at neglected points of intersection’
(McCall, 2005: 1773–4).
The anticategorical approach challenges the use of categories because
they have no basis in reality, only in the (discursive) language used to cre-
ate them. McCall argues that feminists of colour have been more critical
of specific types of categorization, than of the act of categorization itself,
perhaps due to the very individualistic political project that is a conse-
quence of the adoption of a strong anticategorical stance, which would be
inconsistent with the collective focus that typically characterizes their
political projects. In general, I would argue that Canadian, Québécois,
French and Commonwealth Caribbean feminist scholars whom I have
identified earlier as using intersectional analysis combine their decon-
struction of – and challenges to – discursive categories with social struc-
tural referents. Power relations are based on both discourse and structure,
and McCall’s anticategorical stance is rejected by those doing intersec-
tional analysis.

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McCall suggests that the intracategorical approach developed as a

result of critiques of the failure to ‘account for lived experience at neg-
lected points of intersection – ones that tended to reflect multiple subor-
dinate locations as opposed to dominant or mixed locations’ (McCall, 2005:
1780). In terms of methodology used in the intracategorical approach,
McCall identifies three strategies: taking as the primary focus of analysis
a single social group that is at the neglected intersection of master cate-
gories, examining a particular social setting or ideological construction, or
a combination of both. Often personal narratives are used, with complex-
ity being managed by focusing on the single group (or group category)
represented by the individual: ‘The intersection of identities takes place
through the articulation of a single dimension of each category. That is,
the “multiple” in these intersectional analyses refers not to dimensions
within categories but to dimensions across categories’ – for example, one
dimension on each of the categories of social location of race/ethnicity,
class, gender, sexual orientation (McCall, 2005: 1781), sometimes using
intensive single-group case studies, which can allow the researcher to dis-
cover complexity and diversity within the group. This approach typically
uses qualitative methods. The studies ‘avoid the fully deconstructive
rejection of all categorization, yet they remain deeply skeptical of the
homogenizing generalizations that go with the territory of classification
and categorization. The point is . . . to focus on the process by which [cat-
egories] are produced, experienced, reproduced, and resisted in everyday
life’ (McCall, 2005: 1783).
The intracategorical approach characterizes much of the work I refer to
in this essay. Commonwealth Caribbean examples include Mohammed’s
(2001) work on Indo-Trinidadian women, the WICP analyses of poor
Afro-Caribbean women (e.g. Gill and Massiah, 1984; Social and Economic
Studies, 1986a, 1986b), the case study of women entrepreneurs with small
and medium-sized businesses presented in Barriteau’s (2001) study of the
political economy of gender in the Commonwealth Caribbean, together
with much of the work – mainly about working-class Afro-Caribbean
women – in the volumes edited by Bailey and Leo-Rhynie (2004), Leo-
Rhynie et al. (1997), Mohammed and Shepherd (1988) and Reddock
(2004). This approach also characterizes Canadian/Québécois work by
(and in volumes edited by) such scholars as Adam (1996), Agnew (1996),
Bannerji (2000), Calliste and Dei (2000), Cardinal (1997), Dagenais and
Piché (1994), Nadal (2003), Ng (1996) and Tastsoglou and Dobrowolsky
(2006), writing about women of colour and about Francophone minority
The intercategorical (or categorical) approach, on the other hand,
focuses on relations of inequality among already constituted social
groups. ‘The concern is with the nature of relationships among social

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groups and, more importantly, how they are changing, rather than with
the definition or representation of such groups per se’ (McCall, 2005:
1785), in particular the existence and (changing) nature of meaningful
inequalities between groups. Unlike the other two approaches, this one is
multi-group and comparative in its emphasis. It analyses the full gamut
of dimensions of multiple categories, allowing a simultaneous and
explicit examination of both advantage and disadvantage, by using quan-
titative methods. The very complexity of such analysis explains, accord-
ing to McCall, why there are separate research specialties on gender, class
and ethnicity/race, and only rare attempts combine them. She draws on
her own research (McCall, 2001) to illustrate how, using this approach, she
has concluded that ‘no single dimension of overall inequality can ade-
quately describe the full structure of multiple, intersecting and conflicting
dimensions of inequality . . . [and] some forms of inequality seem to arise
from the same conditions that might reduce other forms, including,
potentially, a conflict between reducing gender inequality and reducing
inequality among women’ (McCall, 2005: 1791). In the Canadian context,
I think it has also been the complexity of mixed locations that has spurred
some of the interest in intersectionality. One example of this complexity is
the bimodal occupational distribution of immigrant women (whether fur-
ther differentiated in terms of their ethnic/racial origin or not) (see, for
example, Denis, 1986, Boyd, 1999 and references in Stasiulis’s 1987 review,
although these are nascent analyses in terms of the challenges McCall
articulates). Another is the changing relations between French-speaking
Canadians inside and outside Québec – more specifically in the present
analysis the changing relations among the women (Denis, 2001; Juteau-Lee
and Roberts, 1981). McCall’s (2005: 1789–92) summary illustration of an
intercategorical analysis demonstrates how this methodology of intersec-
tional analysis uses, but goes beyond, complex statistical analysis: the
analysis is contextualized by qualitative contextualization, which
enhances its richness.

Publishing Feminist Intersectional Analyses

Edited volumes remain an important vehicle of publication for feminist
intersectional analyses. A perusal of the bibliography identifies several
publishers, including Sumach, Fernwood, Broadview and the Canadian
Scholars Press in Canada, Remue-ménage in Québec, Ian Randle and the
University of the West Indies Press in the Commonwealth Caribbean, and
Sage and Ashgate, who have been quite receptive to edited feminist col-
lections by social science scholars. Edited volumes have, however, posed
problems in terms of the accessibility of their contents. Articles in these
sources have not been systematically included in databases or in library

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catalogues, although that practice has, fortunately, recently begun

to change. Government ministries and women’s organizations in
Canada/Québec – and in the Commonwealth Caribbean – also publish
studies which they have commissioned. As in the case of articles in edited
volumes, however, locating such publications often requires persistence
and/or good luck, and there is the added ‘problem’ for the careers of the
authors that such publications are not necessarily peer reviewed.
While feminist journals remain an important publishing location (and
their number has expanded over the years), feminist analyses using inter-
sectional analyses are now also appearing in regular issues of ‘main-
stream’ journals, as well as in special issues of such journals. McCall
(2005) comments on the difficulty of compressing the richness and com-
plexities of an intercategorical analysis into a journal length article; this
suggests that monographs are the appropriate form of publication for
such work. Mainstream presses, including university presses, have
become more receptive to publishing feminist analyses, including those
using intersectionality, but monographs tend to be publicized in terms of
their substantive content rather than their theoretical and methodological
approach, which may limit awareness of which are actually applying
intersectional analysis. Sources like the International Sociology Review of
Books offer an invaluable corrective to this limitation.
Intersectional analysis is, then, an evolving project within feminism.
The challenge of integrating multiple, concurrent, yet often contradictory,
social locations into analyses of power relations has been issued.
Theorizing to accomplish this end is evolving, and we are struggling to
develop effective methodological tools in order to marry theorizing with
necessarily complex analyses of empirical data.

1. On the basis of my reading and my discussions with feminist sociologists from
a fairly wide range of different national sociological traditions, I think this is an
accurate claim. I feel on surer ground in relation to English and French schol-
ars, since this is the literature with which I am most acquainted. I make no
claims for literature outside of sociology, and within sociology I know some
would consider that this statement of premises is excessively minimalist.
2. The form – inequality, discrimination, exploitation, appropriation – varies
depending on the particular current within feminism.
3. The commitment may involve activism by the individual feminist or provid-
ing material that can be used by others in their activist endeavours.
4. The Québecois interdisciplinary journal Recherches féministes [Feminist
Research] began later, in 1988.
5. I omit reference to Guillaumin’s (1995) materialist – as distinct from Marxist
– feminism because her publications were not readily available in English

Denis Intersectional Analysis

until 1995, and intersectional analysis mainly developed within the Anglo-
American world until very recently.
6. I intentionally name both concepts here because, although I follow
Schermerhorn (1970: 12) in considering ‘race’ as a marker of the more general
concept of ‘ethnic group’, I am sensitive to the fact that there are others who
consider it to be a separate (and more important) concept.
7. This concept is more dynamic than that of ‘social status’.
8. Articles in Stasiulis and Yuval-Davis (1995) and Tastsoglou and Dobrowolsky
(2006) indicate its use by feminists in other settler societies but I have not
explored that literature enough to feel competent to comment on it.
9. In fact, with the exception of the Metropolis centre in Halifax, where Evangelia
(Evie) Tastsoglou laboured hard to ensure a space for feminist approaches,
feminists working on ethnicity/race throughout Canada have found that their
feminist interests were marginalized within the Metropolis framework and a
number have therefore chosen not to be associated with Metropolis.
10. French speakers located elsewhere in Canada, where they constitute a lin-
guistic minority, although with certain linguistic rights because theirs is one
of the two official languages in Canada/Québec.
11. She underlines that it is only in relation to the ‘foreign’ headscarf that these
individuals have sprung to the defence of women’s equality (Delphy, 2006:
59–61). It was only in 1970 that French married women ceased to be legal
minors, appropriated by their husbands.

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résumé: Cet essai sur le féminisme porte essentiellement sur l’analyse intersection-
nelle; celle-ci, encore á ses débuts, constitue une contribution théorique impor-
tante du féminisme á la sociologie. L’analyse intersectionnelle consiste à analyser
simultanément de multiples foyers de subordination/oppression qui se croisent
et agissent en interaction. On trouve les premières publications basées sur ce
type d’analyse vers 1980 en Amérique du Nord et en Grande-Bretagne mais ce
n’est qu’une dizaine d’années plus tard que l’usage en est devenu plus répandu.
Son développement á différents rythmes dans diverses parties du monde fait
l’objet d’une étude de quelques cas, de même en ce qui concerne les divers gen-
res de publications dans lesquelles cette analyse est appliquée.

resumen: Este ensayo sobre el feminismo se centra en el análisis interseccional, una

importante y emergente contribución teórica del feminismo a la sociología. El
análisis interseccional implica el análisis concurrente de múltiples fuentes de opre-
sión-subordinación que se intersectan (e interactuan). Hay ejemplos anteriores de

International Sociology Review of Books Vol. 23 No. 5

publicaciones basadas en este tipo de análisis alrededor de 1980 en

Norteamérica y Gran Bretaña, pero fue únicamente una década después que su
uso comenzó a extenderse. Su desarrollo a diferentes niveles en varias partes
del mundo se explora selectivamente, así como algunos de los tipos de publica-
ciones en las cuales se ha utilizado.

Biographical Note: Ann Denis is a professor in the Département de sociologie et

anthropologie, Université d’Ottawa in Canada. Her research and publications
focus on questions of ethnicity and gender, particularly in Canada/Québec and
in the Commonwealth Caribbean. A member of the Executive Committee of the
ISA (2006–10), she was its Vice President for Research (2002–6) and is active in
RC 05 and RC 32.
Address: Department of Sociology and Anthropology, University of Ottawa, 55
Laurier E, Ottawa, ON K1S 0P9, Canada. [email:]