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Intersectional Approach to Privilege

Xenia J. Kozlov



Our society tends to regard traditional privilege-oppression scale within the Matrix of Domination which considers several factors, such as gender, race, class, and sex, impacting simultaneously on a group's experience (Delaney, 2016). A. Lorde (2014) appeals to this approach in her article, approving the interaction of several social forces contribute to social inequality and arguing that it is a mistake to treat them separately. Considering race without gender, or sexuality, or class, Lorde says, leads to conflicts within social groups because of ignoring the specificity at the intersections of these powers. From this point, intersectional approach to understanding privilege and oppression is a useful practical tool and, probably, a stabilizing process, social fact (Durkheim, as cited at Delaney, 2016) which supports social functioning. The term intersectionality was suggested by K. W. Crenshaw, when she described the intersection of race and gender (Crenshaw, 2008). Susan Knudsen (2006) defined intersectionality as a theory which analyzes the intertwining of race, class, gender, ethnicity, disability, sexuality, and nationality. From the point of intersectionality, privilege and oppression seem to be more complex, because of interaction of different dimensions. Thus, one privilege can be reinforced or defended by another, or can compensate the lack of the other privilege, or can give access to other privileges – and, controversially, oppressed group tend to be pitted against each other (Johnson, 2006, p. 52-53). The specificity of the American society sets its need of intersectionality approach more than others, though globalization processes have blurred the differences within the Western world. Thus, privilege of whiteness is the most acute in the US because of its history of colonization and racialization (Nkomo & Akram, 2014). So, let us see, how researchers study and use the intersectionality for investigation privilege and oppression as components of social inequality.

The Research Articles Review

Cho, Crenshaw, and McCall (2013) approve the intersectionality as the method of huge potential. They explore the fields where intersectional frameworks and insights could be applied – a. the investigation of the intersectional dynamics, b. debating about intersectional approach as a methodological and theoretical paradigm, c. and using the intersectional lens in political intervention. Using this framework, authors offer the intersectional approach both as theoretical method and practical intervention to decrease world's inequality.

R. K. Dhamoon (2011) concerns about the practical usage of the intersectional approach. She formulates 5 keys to adopting and mainstreaming intersectionality: 1. considering the language and the concepts which are used; 2. understanding the complexity of the diversity and ways of “navigating” it; 3. focusing on the identities, processes and systems, and categories we use; 4. figuring out a model of explaining describing the diversities that involved in interaction; 5. establish the principles which determine what interactions are analyzed. Therefore, Dhamoon proposes to implement intersectionality as a form of social critique, which could be able to stop the mechanisms of inequality.

Black and Stone (2005) suggest the concept of the domains of privilege, including sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, age, differing degrees of ability, and religious affiliation. “Dichotomous categorizations of privilege, - the authors write, - diminish an understanding of its intersections, intricacies, and influence” (p. 243).

C. Crisp (2014) pays attention to her personal experience of being white lesbian female through the prism of intersectionality and belonging to white privileged group and female and lesbian groups, which are oppressed ones, simultaneously.

Atewologun and Sealy (2014) also accept the understanding of privilege “beyond the binary categories of dis/advantage” (p. 424), emphasizing the importance of being aware that everyone belongs to several social groups simultaneously. Working within the matrix of domination, intersections can be simultaneously reinforcing and contradictory. They notice the contextual nature of privilege, saying that privilege is experienced within cultural and socio-demographic situation, and, moreover, argue that privilege can be conferred by others, and contested by others.


Within the social inequality concept, privilege is the keystone of social stratification. Working simultaneously, the social powers create different roles for the members of society, and privilege and oppression emerge in the process of their interaction (Delaney, 2016). However, there is a chance of distortion of understanding what is privilege due to multiple factors which form one's social identity. American society, probably, has the biggest variety of those, because of its historical and current specificity. For better understanding and maintaining social functionality, the approach of intersectionality can be used. Researchers prove that using the intersectional approach can define privilege more comprehensively, even sometimes exposing the unexpected features of it.


Atewologun, D., Sealy, R. (2014). Experiencing privilege at ethnic, gender and senior intersections. Journal of Managerial Psychology, 29 (4) 423-439.

Black, L. & Stone, D. (2005, October). Expanding the Definition of Privilege: The Concept of Social Privilege. Journal of Multicultural Counseling and Development, 33 (4). 243-255.

Cho, S., Crenshaw, K.W., McCall, L. (2013) Toward a Field of Intersectionality Studies: Theory, Applications, and Praxis. Signs, 38(4), 785.

Crenshaw, K. W. (2008). Mapping the Margins: Intersectionality, Identity Politics, and Violence Against Women of Color. In: Baily, A. & Cuomo, C. (Eds) The Feminist Philosophy Reader, 279-309. New York: McGraw-Hill.

Crisp, C. (2014) White and Lesbian: Intersections of Privilege and Oppression. Journal of Lesbian Studies, 18(2), 106.

Delaney, M. (2016). Social Inequality. Lectures. Retreived from

Dhamoon, R. K. (2011). Considerations on Mainstreaming Intersectionality. Political Research Quarterly, 64 (1), 230-243.

Johnson, A. J. (2006). Privilege, Power, and Difference. (2nd Ed), 12-40. NY, McGraw Hill.

Knudsen, S. V. (2006). Intersectionality – a theoretical inspiration in the analysis of minority cultures and identities in textbooks. Retrieved from

Lorde, A. (2014). Age, Race, Class, and Sex. In: Rottenberg, P. S. with Mayhew, K. S. Race, Class, and Gender in the United States. An Integrated Study. (9th Ed), 650-656. NY, Worth Publishers.

Nkomo, S. M. & Akram, A. A. (2014). The historical origins of ethnic (white) privilege in US organizations. Journal of Managerial Psychology, 29(4), 389-404.

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