Empirical Intersectionality: A Tale of Two Approaches

  • Ange-Marie HancockEmail author
Part of the The Politics of Intersectionality book series (POLI)


Intersectionality theory has been characterized as the most significant intellectual contribution of gender studies to the world. Surprisingly, at least part of its success has been attributed to its vagueness. Nowhere is this more true than in the empirical applications of intersectionality. When enacted empirically, intersectionality theory is usually conceptualized as a theory that fits four standards of empirical social research: (1) It explains a phenomenon. (2) It is grounded in a substantive literature. (3) It is falsifiable. (4) It is methodologically agnostic. Is this, however, the most appropriate way to empirically operationalize the legal theory of intersectionality? This chapter examines two contrasting empirical operationalizations of intersectionality theory and suggests a series of trade-offs between them, including preservation of theoretical integrity and current litigational utility. To do so, the author uses an ongoing research project concerning same-sex marriage, or marriage equality as it is termed by advocates, to illustrate distinct empirical methodologies that are compatible with the intersectionality-as-testable explanation and paradigm intersectionality approaches, respectively.

Copyright information

© The Editor(s) (if applicable) and The Author(s), under licence to Spring Nature Switzerland AG, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of Southern CaliforniaLos AngelesUSA

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