Leslie McCall
Born 1964
Relevant Work “The Complexity of Intersectionality”


Biography Edit

  • Leslie McCall is Professor of Sociology and Political Science, as well as Faculty Fellow at the Institute for Policy Research, at Northwestern University
  • She is the author of Complex Inequality: Gender, Class, and Race in the New Economy (2001)
  • Her work on economic inequality has been published in the American Sociological Review, Demography, Signs, the Annual Review of Sociology, Perspectives on Politics, Economic Geography and the Socio-Economic Review, as well as in several edited volumes (Google)
  • Her current research includes (1) an ongoing study of economic inequality among women, (2) an analysis of the impact of corporate restructuring (e.g., downsizing, subcontracting) on rising inequality, and (3) an investigation of the political consequences of rising wage inequality, in terms of awareness of and opposition to inequality, preferences for redistributive policies, and political participation
  • McCall also maintains an interest in feminist social theory and methodology, in particular, the conceptualization and empirical analysis of multiple dimensions of social relations from a social science perspective.
  • Her work has been funded by the National Science Foundation, the Russell Sage Foundation, and Demos: A Network of Ideas and Action, where she is a Senior Fellow (Google)

To view a full copy of Dr. McCall's CV, you may go here.

"The Complexity of Intersectionality" Edit

Background and Historical Context Edit

The basic concept of intersectional feminism stemmed from the idea that first and second wave feminism was designed to only benefit a specific group of women, specifically straight, white, middle-class women. Intersectionality became a cornerstone of third wave feminism, in an effort to be more inclusive of women of color and queer women. The understanding is that all women are affected by sexism, but race and sexuality play a major role in what kind of sexism is targeted at someone. McCall's article offers a much more in-depth look than this short summary.

Key Words and Terms Edit

Intersectionality - relationships among multiple dimensions and modalities of social relations and subject formations

The Three Approaches - in brief, are defined principally in terms of their stance toward categories, that is, how they understand and use analytical categories to explore the complexity of intersectionality in social life (McCall 1773):

  1. Anticategorical Complexity is based on a methodology that deconstructs analytical categories.
    • In which, categories are understood as artificial and exclusionary; performances and understandings of statuses change based on context ("Intersectionality in Sociology").
      • "Of the three approaches, this approach appears to have been the most successful in satisfying the demand for complexity, judging by the fact that there is now great skepticism about the possibility of using categories in anything but a simplistic way" (McCall 1773).
  2. Intracategorical Complexity "because authors working in this vein tend to focus on particular social groups at neglected points of intersection—'people whose identity crosses the boundaries of traditionally constructed groups' (Dill 2002, 5)—in order to reveal the complexity of lived experience within such groups. Since the second approach is sometimes associated (erroneously) with the anticategorical approach, I discuss these two approaches in the same section" (1774).
    • "This approach is meant to focus on inclusion of previously marginalized groups...which is typically either a single social category at a neglected point of intersection of multiple master categories or a particular social setting or ideological construction, or both” ("Intersectionality in Sociology").
      • "I call intracategorical complexity inaugurated the study of intersectionality, I discuss it as the second approach because it falls conceptually in the middle of the continuum between the first approach, which rejects categories, and the third approach, which uses them strategically. Like the first approach, it interrogates the boundary-making and boundary-defining process itself, though that is not its raison d’eˆtre. Like the third approach, it acknowledges the stable and even durable relationships that social categories represent at any given point in time, though it also maintains a critical stance toward categories" (1773-4).
  3. Intercategorical Complexity requires that scholars provisionally adopt existing analytical categories to document relationships of inequality among social groups and changing configurations of inequality along multiple and conflicting dimensions.
    • For example, instead of only comparing how race and gender affect a person, they consider how gender is raced and race is gendered ("Intersectionality in Sociology").
      • "I describe my own research methodology as an example of the intercategorical approach. Because it is the lesser known of the three approaches, I spend more time discussing an example of this type of research than I do the other two approaches. I also identify examples of research by other social scientists working with similar methodologies, though my aim is to be illustrative rather than exhaustive" (McCall 1773).

Multigroup - In contrast with single-group studies, multigroup studies analyze intersections of the full set of dimensions of multiple categories, examining advantage and disadvantage simultaneously (1787).

Methodology- "A coherent set of ideas about the philosophy, methods, and data that underlie the research process and the production of knowledge" (McCall 1774).

Key Quotations Edit

"The introduction of gender as an analytical category, feminism as a theoretical perspective, and male dominance as a major social institution all became necessary to counter the tendency toward neglecting and misrepresenting women's experiences" (1776).

"In terms of the methods-related, philosophical, and theoretical issues that inform the broader methodology of categorical complexity, my aim, given the range of issues covered and limited space, is simply to introduce alternative perspectives that many feminists have overlooked rather than to provide a comprehensive definition and defense of them" (1792).

"Feminism's development as a new field has been partial, perhaps unintentionally so, but this is a matter of course in the development of any new field and something that the new field must continually resist" (1796).

"Ironically, one measure of how far feminism has come might be the distance between it and its most distant disciplinary cousins, which may be greater now than ever. Importantly, this has as much to do with research on new and timely subjects in the older disciplines as it does with the growth and sophistication of feminist studies itself. In other words, the older fields have not been standing still" (1784).

"This should not be taken as a unique critique of women's studies; most social theories are not universal theories. I treat feminist theory as I would any other social theory and judge it based on the adequacy of its rendering of social life (in this case the new social inequality). What happens then, when vanguard theories are not universal theories capable of fully covering the territories they hoped to supersede?" (1792).

"...Scholars see categories as misleading constructs that do not readily allow for the diversity and heterogeneity of experience to be represented" (1783).

"The complexity derives from the fact that different contexts reveal different configuration of inequality in this particular social formation. The point is not to assume this outcome a priori, but to explore the nature and extent of such differences and inequalities" (1791).

"I am not concerned solely with methods but with the philosophical underpinnings of methods and the kinds of substantive knowledge that are produced in the application of methods" (1774).

"......the deconstruction of master categories is understood as part...of the deconstruction of inequality itself...since symbolic violence and material inequalities are rooted in relationships that are defined by race, class, sexuality, and gender, the project of deconstructing the normative assumptions of these categories contributes to the possibility of positive social change" (1777, emphasis mine).

The pressing issue then is to overcome the disciplinary boundaries based on the use of different methods in order to embrace multiple approaches to the study of intersectionality" (1795).

Discussion Edit

Three Approaches to Intersectionality Edit

McCall discusses how feminism can be studied through intersectionality and discusses how one can methodogically do so by outlining the three approaches to intersectionality: anticategorical complexity, intercategorical complexity, and intracategorical complexity. McCall discusses the theory behind the three approaches and how all of them are applied, as well as the criticisms behind the approaches.

Intercategorical Complexity Edit

The intercategorical approach (also referred to as the categorical approach) takes the relationships of inequality among constituted social groups as the center of analysis (1784-1785). Its focus is on the complexity of relationships among multigroups instead of "single social groups, single categories, or both" (1786).

In McCall's analysis of wage inequality by gender, class, and race in four cities, McCall discusses the four different configurations of inequality. Her main findings were that the “patterns of racial, gender,, and class inequality are not the same across configurations” (Pg. 1789). This indicated that economic environments created advantages for some groups and disadvantages for other groups, particularly women. Essentially, different contexts revealed different configurations of inequality in different social formations. By using categories to begin her analysis, McCall examined the relationships between and among groups of individuals, which led to a complex outcome with multiple, intersecting, and conflicting aspects. She found that some forms of inequality can be caused by the conditions of other situations that reduce inequalities. Because of this complex situation, McCall demonstrates how different methods and approaches to feminist theory are needed to study intersectionality.

Anti-categorical Complexity Edit

Once people try to categorize other people (for example, by gender) countless categories come up--no longer as "simply" male and female, but non-binary, transgender, and queer, to name a few. As categories continue to fracture into more complex groupings, ethnographic research adapts to allow individual "voices" for both the researcher and the subject. The interaction between the two is considered through their individual voices.

Relevant Sects of Feminism Edit

  • Black feminism/ womanism
  • Gender critical feminism
  • Eco-feminism
  • Liberal feminism
  • Third Wave feminism
  • New Age feminism

Major Criticism and Reception Edit

"Criticisms of the additive approach fail to give proper credit to quantitative analysis as a practical way to address the impact of disadvantaged identities.  Intersectionality theory rightly advocates the complexity of individuals.  But to understand this complexity, there must be ways to determine which identities are advantaged and which are disadvantaged, in what contexts and to what extent.  As illustrated here, quantitative techniques make possible such accounting that not only allows for valid comparisons across countries, but also among types of very complex intersections.   

Thus, although the majority of intersectionality research is done using qualitative methods, intersectionality theorists should embrace quantitative techniques to develop the intersectionality paradigm.  Large survey data sets, especially cross-national ones, provide opportunities for intersectionality researchers to provide empirical support for their theoretical statements and generalizability of their findings.  We need to stop wondering whether quantitative analysis of survey data is appropriate for accounting for intersectionality.  The challenge now is to strengthen the bond between intersectionality theory and quantitative techniques." (How Can We Account for Intersectionality in Quantitative Analysis of Survey Data?  Empirical Illustration of Central and Eastern Europe)

Related Works Edit

  • Christine De Pizan - NATC 203
  • Foucault, Michel - The Archaeology of Knowledge and the Discourse on Language
  • Rodo-de-Zarate, Maria - "Commentary on The Complexity of Intersectionality", Humana.Mente Journal of Philosophical Studies, Vol. 22, September 2012, pp. 189-197.
  • Paula Dunn Allen- NATC 2000
  • Simone de Beauvoir - NATC 1261
  • Susan Bordo - NATC 2237
  • Judith Butler - NATC 2536
  • Helene Cixous - 1938
  • Sandra M. Gilbert and Susan Gubar - NATC 1923
  • Donna Haraway - NATC 2187
  • Annette Kolodny - NATC 2045
  • Jacques-Marie Lacan - NATC 1163
  • Lisa Lowe - NATC 2516
  • Laura Mulvey - NATC 2081
  • Adrienne Rich - NATC 1588
  • Gayle Rubin - NATC 2373
  • Edward Said - NATC 1866
  • Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak - NATC 2110
  • Monique Wittig - NATC 1904
  • Virginia Woolf - NATC 892
  • Ruth Behar, Translated Woman

References Edit

  • McCall, Leslie. (2005). "The Complexity of Intersectionality." Signs , vol. 30, no 3, 2005, pp. 1771-1800.
  • "Intersectionality in Sociology." N.p., n.d. Web. 26 Oct. 2016.
  • Dubrow, Joshua Kjerulf.  2008.  “How Can We Account for Intersectionality in Quantitative Analysis of Survey Data?  Empirical Illustration of Central and Eastern Europe.”  ASK: Society, Research, Methods 17: 85-102.