LGBT TIG Week: Intersectionality in Practice by Michael G. Curtis

Hi all! My name is Michael Curtis (he/him), and I’m speaking (kind of) to you from the Evaluation, Data Integration, and Technical Assistance (EDIT) team at Northwestern University.

During 2020’s LGBT TIG week, my colleagues at EDIT wrote a piece focused on how important it was for evaluators to engage with the concept of intersectionality actively (see here). This year I want to dive deeper into what it means to apply this framework practically.

Intersectionality is an analytical framework aimed at understanding how aspects of a person’s social identities fuse to create different experiences of discrimination and privilege. Its origins can be traced back to the work of Black feminist scholars in the 1970s, who were focused on conceptualizing how different forms of discrimination, such as racism and sexism, converged to produce a unique experience of marginalization among Black women. As a framework, it is most often used to understand, prevent, or intervene in the processes of power, privilege, and oppression that facilitate the continuation of health disparities.

There are numerous ways to integrate intersectionality into evaluation projects. In her work, “The complexity of intersectionality,” Leslie McCall argues that intersectionality projects fall into three categories: intra-categorical, inter-categorical, and anti-categorical.

Projects informed by intra-categorical intersectionality focus on examining how oppressive processes cultivate within-group differences (i.e. why some members of a group perform better or worse than other members of the same group).

In contrast, inter-categorical projects are interested in examining how oppressive processes drive across-group differences (i. e. why do members of group A perform better or worse than members of group B?).

You can probably think of several studies that ask and answer similar questions – sometimes at the same time as these approaches are not mutually exclusive – without outright saying they are using intersectionality. You may also be thinking, am I, or are they using intersectionality without even knowing it?

MAYBE!

If you consider how systems of oppression influence the presenting problem, the conceptualization of your evaluation project, its analysis, and your results, then…

Probably!

Welcome to the Intersectionality Club. We have cookies!

If you didn’t think about power processes and were curious about within-group or across-group differences, then….

NOPE!

Oppressive processes are critical to intersectionality. You can’t do this work without reflecting upon how these factors are prevalent throughout the evaluation process.

The last category offered by McCall was an anti-categorical approach. Projects using this approach focus on deconstructing inequality and challenging the socially constructed boundaries that govern social categories. For example, a project rooted in this approach may ask, “who defines what it means to be LGBTQ+ and how do they police the boundaries surrounding this community?” While rarer than other approaches, anti-categorical projects scrutinize the implicit biases we may bring to our work and challenge us to be more deliberate and transparent in our decision-making.

Rad Resources

As an analytic framework, intersectionality is still in its infancy. While McCall’s work is a valuable starting point, there is still PLENTY room for innovation and creativity! Below I’ve provided some resources for those interested in beginning or continuing their intersectionality journeys:


The American Evaluation Association is hosting LGBT TIG Week with our colleagues in the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Issues Topical Interest Group. The contributions all this week to AEA365 come from our LGBT TIG members. Do you have questions, concerns, kudos, or content to extend this AEA365 contribution? Please add them in the comments section for this post on the AEA365 webpage so that we may enrich our community of practice. Would you like to submit an AEA365 Tip? Please send a note of interest to AEA365@eval.org. AEA365 is sponsored by the American Evaluation Association and provides a Tip-a-Day by and for evaluators. The views and opinions expressed on the AEA365 blog are solely those of the original authors and other contributors. These views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of the American Evaluation Association, and/or any/all contributors to this site.

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