Research Topic

Intersectionality and Identity Development: How Do We Conceptualize and Research Identity Intersectionalities in Youth Meaningfully?

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Since Kimberlé Crenshaw proposed in 1991 that the intersectionality between race and social class generates different experiences for women who are victims of domestic abuse, considerable theory and, to a certain extent, research, has focused on the construct of intersectionality. Crenshaw and other ...

Since Kimberlé Crenshaw proposed in 1991 that the intersectionality between race and social class generates different experiences for women who are victims of domestic abuse, considerable theory and, to a certain extent, research, has focused on the construct of intersectionality. Crenshaw and other feminists, in particular, critical race scholars, argued that gender, race, social class, and sexuality are inseparable, non-hierarchical, dimensions of oppression. Summing up Crenshaw’s theory, intersectional identities create differences in people’s positionality— that is, social locations and perceptions— within society.

While the concept of intersectionality helps us understand the unique spaces that young individuals occupy as a function of their unique personal and social identity configurations, further research and theory on identity intersectionality’s development and their consequences for young individuals’ daily lives is needed.

As evident from a recent special issue in Developmental Psychology, there is an evident increasing interest in the field on the construct of intersectionality. However, we still lack an empirical basis from which articulate its theoretical and practical relevance for young individuals’ identity development. To date, most theory and research have only focused on adults. As this concept is gaining more attention and concern in Developmental Psychology, we will need to be detailed and specific as regards this concept’s operationalization and investigation. A thorough, finely-tuned investigation is necessary to avoid this concept becoming an empty construct, inasmuch we can generate an endless list of identity intersections.

In the article Intersectionality and the development of self and identity written by Azmitia and Thomas in 2015, the authors proposed three main questions to address, in order to guide Developmental theory and research on identity intersectionality.

The goal of this Research Topic is to welcome researchers to come up with a developmental theory and developmental research agenda for an empirical study on intersectionality, by answering three specific questions. Furthermore, this Research Topic intends to address the proposal – carried out by many researchers in this field - of whether intersectionality is best studied through qualitative methods, or whether we can conceptualize some productive quantitative approaches to the issue. The three questions we proposed in the above-cited work were developed based on Cole’s 2009 essay.

These are the three questions when having to study intersectionality in Psychology:

(1) Who is included in a social identity category? That is, which are the diversity levels or levels of within-group variability within a social identity such as gender, race, class, or sexuality? When does the dissimilarity between group members render the identity category incoherent?

(2) What roles do inequality and oppression play in the construction of identity intersectionality? The construct emerged from an inequality discussion regarding how the legal system treats in an unequal fashion, domestic abuse victims. The Research Topic would continue the discussion, concentrating on how power and oppression are a background in young individuals’ daily lives. We welcome addressing, for example, the construct of multiple jeopardy—i.e., that the more minority identities youth have, the more powerless they will feel in contemporary society. However, authors may also address whether and how these multiple minority identities may be a source of pride and power for youth, particularly those engaged in movements working for social change.

(3) Are there similarities in the intersectional experiences of young individuals who vary in their social identities? For example, is there a common ground for youth who experience different identity configurations and oppression?

Social justice movements, most famously the civil rights movement in the 1960s, succeeded because they brought together people from a variety of social backgrounds working together for social change. While it is important not to ignore the unique experiences of young individuals, it is also useful to consider the common experiences shared by young individuals growing up in the same cultural community, attending societal institutions such as schools, and moving through developmental tasks such as identity development, forming romantic relationships, and transitioning from school to work.

An additional issue that authors may address involves the developmental question:
Which socio-cognitive skills are required in young individuals to become aware of and able to articulate their identity intersectionality?

To an extent, this awareness depends on the centrality and salience of these identities in youth’s lives, but this question raises the issue of whether intersectionality is a primarily a scholarly issue of theory and research or whether thinking intersectionality truly matters in contemporary youth’s lives.


Keywords: intersectionality, identity, developmental, youth, social


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