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.
This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access.
Buy single article
Instant access to the full article PDF.
Price includes VAT for USA
Subscribe to journal
Immediate online access to all issues from 2019. Subscription will auto renew annually.
This is the net price. Taxes to be calculated in checkout.
Baptiste, I. (2001). Qualitative data analysis: Common phases, strategic differences [Electronic Version]. Forum: Qualitative Social Research, 2(3). http://www.qualitative-research.net/fqs-texte/3-01/3-01baptiste-e.htm. Retrieved 2 Sep 2007.
Beale, F. (1970). Double jeopardy: To be black and female. In T. Cade (Ed.) The Black woman (pp. 90–100). New York: Signet.
Betancourt, H., & Lopez, S. R. (1993). The study of culture, ethnicity, and race in American psychology. American Psychologist, 48, 629–637.
Binion, V. J. (1990). Psychological androgyny: A Black female perspective. Sex Roles, 22, 487–507.
Bowleg, L., Brooks, K., & Ritz, S. F. (2008). “Bringing home more than a paycheck”: An exploratory analysis of Black lesbians’ experiences of stress and coping in the workplace. Journal of Lesbian Studies, 12(1), 69–84.
Bowleg, L., Craig, M. L., & Burkholder, G. (2004). Rising and surviving: A conceptual model of active coping among Black lesbians. Cultural Diversity & Ethnic Minority Psychology, 10, 229–240.
Bowleg, L., Huang, J., Brooks, K., Black, A., & Burkholder, G. (2003). Triple jeopardy and beyond: Multiple minority stress and resilience among Black lesbians. Journal of Lesbian Studies, 7, 87–108.
Bradburn, N. M., Sudman, S., & Wansink, B. (2004). Asking questions: The definitive guide to questionnaire design—for market research, political polls, and social and health questionnaires. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Brooks, V. R. (1981). Minority stress and lesbian women. Lexington, MA: Lexington Books.
Cochran, S. D., & Mays, V. M. (1988). Disclosure of sexual preference to physicians by Black lesbian and bisexual women. Western Journal of Medicine, 149, 616–619.
Cochran, S. D., & Mays, V. M. (1994). Depressive distress among homosexually active African American men and women. American Journal of Psychiatry, 151, 524–529.
Collins, P. H. (1991). Black feminist thought: Knowledge, consciousness, and the politics of empowerment. New York: Routledge.
Collins, P. H. (1995). Symposium: On West and Fenstermaker’s “Doing difference”. Gender & Society, 9, 491–513.
Collins, P. H. (1998). It’s all in the family: Intersections of gender, race, and nation. Hypatia, 13, 62–82.
Crenshaw, K. W. (1989). Demarginalizing the intersection of race and sex: A Black feminist critique of antidiscrimination doctrine, feminist theory, and antiracist politics. University of Chicago Legal Forum, 139, 139–167.
Crenshaw, K. W. (1991). Mapping the margins: Intersectionality, identity politics, and violence against Women of Color. Stanford Law Review, 43, 1241–1299.
Crosby, F. (1984). The denial of personal discrimination. American Behavioral Scientist, 27, 371–386.
Crosby, F., Cordova, D. I., & Jaskar, K. (1993). On the failure to see oneself as disadvantaged: Cognitive and emotional components. In M. Hogg, & D. Abrams (Eds.) Group motivation: Social psychological perspectives (pp. 87–104). Hertfordshire, England: Harvester Wheatsheaf.
Cuadraz, G. H., & Uttal, L. (1999). Intersectionality and in-depth interviews: Methodological strategies for analyzing race, class, and gender. Race, Gender & Class, 6, 156–186.
Dang, A., & Frazer, S. (2004). Black same-sex households in the United States: A report from the 2000 Census. http://www.thetaskforce.org/downloads/blackcensus/BCRNationalReport.pdf. Retrieved 9 Dec 2005.
Davis, A. Y. (1983). Women, race and class (1st Ed.). New York: Vintage Books.
Dean, L., Meyer, I. H., Robinson, K., Sell, R. L., Sember, R., Silenzio, V. M. B., et al. (2000). Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender health: Findings and concerns. Journal of the Gay and Lesbian Medical Association, 4, 102–151.
Deaux, K. (1993). Reconstructing social identity. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 19, 4–12.
DiPlacido, J. (1998). Minority stress among lesbians, gay men, and bisexuals: A consequence of heterosexism, homophobia, and stigmatization. In G. M. Herek (Ed.) Stigma and sexual orientation: Understanding prejudice against lesbians, gay men, and bisexuals (pp. 138–159). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
Fine, M., Weis, L., Weseen, S., & Wong, L. (2000). For whom? Qualitative research, representations, and social responsibilities. In N. K. Denzin, & Y. S. Lincoln (Eds.) Handbook of qualitative research (2nd Ed. pp. 107–131). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
Fingerhut, A. W., Peplau, L. A., & Ghavami, N. (2005). A dual-identity framework for understanding lesbian experience. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 29, 129–139.
Greene, B. (1995). Lesbian women of color: Triple jeopardy. In L. Comas-Diaz, & B. Greene (Eds.) Women of color: Integrating ethnic and gender identities in psychotherapy (pp. 389–427). New York: Guilford.
Greene, B. (Ed.). (1997). Ethnic and cultural diversity among lesbians and gay men. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
Hall, R. L., & Greene, B. (2002). Not any one thing: The complex legacy of social class on African American lesbian relationships. Journal of Lesbian Studies, 6, 65–74.
Helms, J. E., Jernigan, M., & Mascher, J. (2005). The meaning of race in psychology and how to change it: A methodological perspective. American Psychologist, 60, 27–36.
Hooks, B. (1981). Ain’t I a woman: Black women and feminism. Boston, MA: South End.
Hull, G. T., Bell Scott, P., & Smith, B. (Eds.). (1982). But some of us are brave: All the women are White, all the Blacks are men: Black Women’s Studies. Old Westbury, NY: Feminist.
Jones, C., & Shorter-Gooden, K. (2003). Shifting: The double lives of Black women in America. New York: Harper Collins.
Krieger, N. (1999). Embodying inequality: A review of concepts, measures, and methods for studying health consequences of discrimination. International Journal of Health Services, 29, 295–352.
Krieger, N., Rowley, D. L., Herman, A. A., Avery, B., & Phillips, M. T. (1993). Racism, sexism, and social class: Implications for studies of health, disease, and well-being. American Journal of Preventive Medicine, 9, 82–122.
Landrine, H., Klonoff, E. A., Alcaraz, R., Scott, J., & Wilkins, P. (1995). Multiple variables in discrimination. In B. Lott, & D. Maluso (Eds.) The social psychology of interpersonal discrimination (pp. 183–224). NY: Guilford.
Lorde, A. (1984). Sister outsider: Essays and speeches. Trumansburg, NY: Crossing.
Marecek, J. (2003). Dancing through minefields: Toward a qualitative stance in psychology. In P. M. Camic, J. E. Rhodes, & L. Yardley (Eds.) Qualitative research in psychology: Expanding perspectives in methodology and design (pp. 49–69). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.
Mays, V. M., & Cochran, S. D. (1988). The Black women’s relationship project: A national survey of Black lesbians. In M. Shernoff, & W. Scott (Eds.) The sourcebook on lesbian/gay health care (2nd Ed. pp. 54–62). Washington, DC: The National Lesbian/Gay Health Foundation.
Mays, V. M., Yancey, A. K., Cochran, S. D., Weber, M., & Fielding, J. E. (2002). Heterogeneity of health disparities among African American, Hispanic, and Asian American women: Unrecognized influences of sexual orientation. American Journal of Public Health, 92, 632–639.
McCall, L. (2005). The complexity of intersectionality. Signs, 30, 1771–1800.
McGrath, J. E., & Johnson, B. A. (2003). Methodology makes meaning: How both qualitative and quantitative paradigms shape evidence and its interpretation. In P. M. Camic, J. E. Rhodes, & L. Yardley (Eds.) Qualitative research in psychology: Expanding perspectives in methodology and design (pp. 31–48). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.
Meyer, I. H. (2003). Prejudice, social stress, and mental health in lesbian, gay, and bisexual populations: Conceptual issues and research evidence. Psychological Bulletin, 129, 674–697.
National Gay and Lesbian Task Force. (2005). States, cities and counties with civil rights ordinances, policies or proclamations prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation (Current through July 2005). http://www.thetaskforce.org/downloads/FAIRAmicus-LocalLawsTable.pdf. Retrieved 9 Dec 2005
Patton, M. Q. (2002). Qualitative interviewing. In Qualitative research and evaluation methods 3rd ed (pp. 339–427). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
Peplau, L. A., Cochran, S. D., & Mays, V. M. (1997). A national survey of the intimate relationships of African American lesbians and gay men: A look at commitment, satisfaction, sexual behavior, and HIV disease. In B. Greene (Ed.) Ethnic and cultural diversity among lesbians and gay men (pp. 11–38). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
Ransford, H. E. (1980). The prediction of social behavior and attitudes. In V. Jeffries, & H. Ransford (Eds.) Social stratification: A multiple hierarchy approach (pp. 265–295). Boston: Allyn & Bacon.
Reid, P. T., & Comas-Diaz, L. (1990). Gender and ethnicity: Perspectives on dual status. Sex Roles, 22, 397–408.
Schulman, K. A., Berlin, J. A., Harless, W., Kerner, J. F., Sistrunk, S., Gersh, B. J., et al. (1999). The effect of race and sex on physicians’ recommendations for cardiac catheterization. New England Journal of Medicine, 340, 618–626.
Sell, R. L., & Becker, J. B. (2001). Sexual orientation data collection and progress toward Healthy People 2010. American Journal of Public Health, 91, 876–882.
Smedley, B. D., Stith, A. Y., & Nelson, A. R. (Eds.). (2003). Unequal treatment: Confronting racial and ethnic disparities in health care. Washington, DC: National Academies.
Spelman, E. V. (1998). Gender and race: The ampersand problem in feminist thought. In S. Ruth (Ed.) Issues in feminism: An introduction to Women’s studies 4th ed (pp. 22–34). Mountain View, CA: Mayfield.
Strauss, A., & Corbin, J. (1990). Basics of qualitative research. London: Sage.
Sue, D. W., Bingham, R. P., Porche Burke, L., & Vasquez, M. (1999). The diversification of psychology: A multicultural revolution. American Psychologist, 54, 1061–1069.
Tashakkori, A., & Teddlie, C. (1998). Introduction to mixed method and mixed model studies in the social and behavioral sciences: Paradigm wars and mixed methodologies. In Mixed methodology: Combining qualitative and quantitative approaches (pp. 3–19). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
Truth, S. (1851). Ain’t I a woman? [Electronic Version]. http://afroamhistory.about.com/od/sojournertruth/a/aintiawoman.htm. Retrieved 15 Jan 2007.
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (2000). Healthy People 2010 (No. 017-001-00547-9). Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office.
Weber, L. (1998). A conceptual framework for understanding race, class, gender, and sexuality. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 22, 13–32.
Weber, L., & Parra-Medina, D. (2003). Intersectionality and women’s health: Charting a path to eliminating health disparities. Advances in Gender Research, 7, 181–230.
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.
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.
About this article
Cite this article
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
- Intersectionality research methods
- Black lesbians