Intersectionality and social explanation in social science research

Averil Y. Clarke*, Leslie McCall

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

48 Scopus citations


To the extent that intersectionality is becoming a common term in mainstream social science, it is as a methodological justification to separate out different racial, ethnic, gender, class, and other social groups for empirical analysis. One might call this the intersectionality hypothesis, and in its best incarnation, it is about getting the facts right and finding the differences that matter. But an intersectional analysis in the social sciences often involves more than this. An intersectional approach also leads to potentially different interpretations of the same facts, or what we term a different social explanation. It is not only the intersection of categories that defines an intersectional project, then, but the theoretical framing that informs the analysis and interpretation of the subject under study. This framing often leads to an analysis of multiple and even conflicting social dynamics that enable certain kinds of social understanding that are otherwise invisible when scholars focus on a single set of social dynamics. Because the social theoretical aspects of research on intersectionality are rarely discussed, relative to the more methodological and ontological aspects of intersectionality, this is our main subject matter in this article. We focus on the process of developing social explanations rooted in the intersection of multiple social dynamics in several examples from our own research and across a variety of topics in social science research.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)349-363
Number of pages15
JournalDu Bois Review
Issue number2
StatePublished - Sep 2013


  • Family
  • Income Inequality
  • Intersectionality
  • Liberalism
  • Social Theory

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cultural Studies
  • Anthropology
  • Sociology and Political Science


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