When Black + Lesbian + Woman ≠ Black Lesbian Woman: The Methodological Challenges of Qualitative and Quantitative Intersectionality Research

Abstract

The notion that social identities and social inequality based on ethnicity, sexual orientation, and sex/gender are intersectional rather than additive poses a variety of thorny methodological challenges. Using research with Black lesbians (Bowleg, manuscripts in preparation; Bowleg et al., Journal of Lesbian Studies, 2008; Bowleg et al., Cultural Diversity & Ethnic Minority Psychology 10:229–240, 2004; Bowleg et al., Journal of Lesbian Studies, 7:87–108, 2003) as a foundation, I examine how these challenges shape measurement, analysis, and interpretation. I argue that a key dilemma for intersectionality researchers is that the additive (e.g., Black + Lesbian + Woman) versus intersectional (e.g., Black Lesbian Woman) assumption inherent in measurement and qualitative and quantitative data analyses contradicts the central tenet of intersectionality: social identities and inequality are interdependent for groups such as Black lesbians, not mutually exclusive. In light of this, interpretation becomes one of the most substantial tools in the intersectionality researcher’s methodological toolbox.

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Acknowledgement

To my friend, colleague, and statistical guru Torsten B. Neilands, Ph.D., Assistant Professor and Director of the Methods Core at the Center for AIDS Prevention Studies, University of California, San Francisco, I offer my immense gratitude for his thoughtful comments about the implications of intersectionality for quantitative research. My sincere thanks also extend to Judith Agyeman, my wonderful graduate research assistant at the School of Public Health who assisted with fact checking and literature reviews for this article. Last, but by no means least, I express my gratitude to the participants of the BLSR and TT study, without whom none of this research would be possible.

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Correspondence to Lisa Bowleg.

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The Trials and Tribulations Study was supported by a 2000 University of Rhode Island Council of Higher Education Grant. I presented portions of this article as Black + Woman + Lesbian? Black x Woman x Lesbian?: Some Conceptual and Methodological Challenges of Intersectionality Research at the “Practical Issues in LGBT Research” symposium at the August 2006 Annual Convention of the American Psychological Association Convention, New Orleans, LA, USA.

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Bowleg, L. When Black + Lesbian + Woman ≠ Black Lesbian Woman: The Methodological Challenges of Qualitative and Quantitative Intersectionality Research. Sex Roles 59, 312–325 (2008). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11199-008-9400-z

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Keywords

  • Intersectionality research methods
  • Black lesbians