Online Program

Retooling the master's tools: Translating the theory of intersectionality into methods for empirical health disparities research

Tuesday, November 3, 2015 : 10:30 a.m. - 10:50 a.m.

Anne Fehrenbacher, Ph.D., MPH, Department of Psychiatry & Biobehavioral Sciences, David Geffen School of Medicine, UCLA Center for HIV Identification, Prevention, & Treatment Services, Los Angeles, CA
In 2003, the Institute of Medicine released a pivotal report entitled Unequal Treatment, which documented vast and long-standing inequalities in the health status of racial minorities compared to non-Hispanic whites. Although the report was influential in bringing the issue of health disparities to the front of the public health agenda, disparities have continued to widen. Crenshaw's theory of intersectionality has the potential to transform health disparities research by providing a framework for understanding the interlocking, cumulative effects of multiple inequalities on health. However, there is a lack of clearly defined intersectional research methodology in the field of public health. The process of translating intersectionality theory into study designs, measures, and analytic techniques poses three key challenges for public health researchers. First, researchers must be reflexive about their positions within the social hierarchies in which their projects are embedded and aware of the potential for their actions and instruments to reify structures of dominance. Second, researchers must determine how to ask questions about interdependent, mutually-constitutive identities without relying on additive models, which assume that identity categories are independent of one another. Third, since intersectionality is a relatively novel theoretical approach in public health, researchers must establish baselines for empirical intervention research. New forms of "popular methodology” are challenging current practices in the collection, use, and deployment of health and social data. Emerging methods using social network analysis, geographic information systems, and data visualization of digital information hold great potential to enhance the practice of intersectional health research. The field of descriptive sociology seeks to link narratives, numbers, images, and geocodes in ways that engage with and analyze daily social transactions (e.g., Sociological Images). With the proliferation of computer-assisted analysis software for mixed methods research (such as Dedoose, formerly EthnoNotes) and open-access visualization tools (such as Gephi), methods that were once the domain and expertise of the academy are becoming increasingly democratized. Intersectional methods may be the key to addressing persistent inequalities and improving the health of the most marginalized populations in our society.

Learning Areas:

Diversity and culture
Other professions or practice related to public health
Public health or related research
Social and behavioral sciences
Systems thinking models (conceptual and theoretical models), applications related to public health

Learning Objectives:
Describe Crenshaw's theory of intersectionality and its relevance to the study of health disparities. Discuss three challenges in the development and implementation of intersectional methods. Explain how social determinants of health such as race, gender, and class are interconnected and situated within a complex matrix of power relations that shape inequality.

Keyword(s): Health Disparities/Inequities, Methodology

Presenting author's disclosure statement:

Qualified on the content I am responsible for because: I am a doctoral student in community health sciences with a specialization in law and critical race studies. I am also a member of the Western Empirical Legal Studies Association. Kimberlé Crenshaw, the founder of intersectionality theory, has mentored me on the topic of transnational critical race theory and has provided guidance on the conceptualization of this paper.
Any relevant financial relationships? No

I agree to comply with the American Public Health Association Conflict of Interest and Commercial Support Guidelines, and to disclose to the participants any off-label or experimental uses of a commercial product or service discussed in my presentation.