Intersectionality is a term coined by lawyer and critical race theorist, Kimberlé Crenshaw. At its heart it argues that the various categories of identification we hold (gender, race, age) do not exist in isolation from each other, but rather they are intricately interlinked, but not in a fixed way. I prefer the term identification over identity as identity implies something that is fixed. In reality we are not fixed, we are constantly changing and evolving, and while some of our identifications may be stable over time, they are not immovable; they are fluid and the interactions between categories are dynamic and shift according to context and place and with shifts in other categories. We are never fixed as people – we are always in a process of becoming, and where we live, the access we have to resources, the people around us, all influence our own selves and the choices we can make.
Intersectionality arose from a recognition by Crenshaw that the experiences of women of colour were being routinely ignored, she posited that her experience as a woman of colour would be qualitatively different to those of a white woman. We see this across all sectors of society in the way that race and racism impact the lives of marginalised groups. Over the years, intersectionality has been applied to many other contexts including, health and disabilities, sexuality, religion, class, and many others. My own doctoral research applied intersectionality to intergenerational gendered experiences of place and belonging.
Application to therapy
The application of an intersectional lens can help in working with individuals as it gives us a broader view of the world of the individual peson. Just as the components of our selves are not in isolation from each other, we do not exist in isolation from the social, cultural, political and structural spaces we inhabit. By applying this framework and being aware of which categories of identification are salient at different times, it can help to develop a fuller understanding of the person in relation to the multiple spaces they inhabit.
Intersectionality gives us a clearer and more complete view of reality, one which makes us better able to make meaningful changes because we understand more fully the causes of the things we want to change in ourselves and in society, and we can see the connections which uphold structures that we may feel unable to change.
A multidisciplinary and intersectional training and framework allows me to work with every client individually and be person-led in my work. I critically engage with modalities so they are not situated in a framework which values Western thinking and agency above all else. My Integrative (Humanistic, Psychodynamic, CBT) training means I have a range of modalities I am skilled in, and I develop these through ongoing professional development and critical and reflexive work. However at its core, my work is always guided by the client. An intersectional lens keeps in focus the social, cultural, political, familial, and structural systems (which is different for every individual) the person is embedded in.
Consider the diagram above. In my visual representation, I have listed a range of categories of identification, what is key is that no category is higher than another. They are all interconnected with each other (drawing these connecting lines always takes ages!). Rather than a hierarchy of identifications, at various times the connections (which I have depicted as dashed lines), get stronger and more salient. Some connections may be solid lines and not dashes.
Sometimes things are not relevant to us, because we have the privilege of not being affected by them – as an able bodied person, I am not constantly aware of how the world is structured to exclude people less able bodied. For those not affected by racism, their race may not be feature of their lived everyday experience, and so racism isn’t in everyday focus. This does not mean that these things do not affect our lives.
Similarly there will be other categories that I have not included here – perhaps some of my choices were influenced by own life experiences e.g. having taken time out of my career to be a full time carer. What categories can you identify that are relevant to you?
The categories in the image above are just some of the domains that make up our lived experience – there will be many others, and it is important to note that the meaning of these categories will be different for every person. Take some time to draw your intersectional world – what factors but internal and personal, and external and structural, make up your identity?