In Intersectionality as a Framework for Transformative Research, (Garcia 2013) the author presents an argument that the role of cultural and socioeconomic diversity (Discourses, as Gee might state it) existent in special education research have not been adequately addressed. He defines intersectionality as the refusal to accept unitary definitions and categorizations, and instead examine issues such as race, class, and gender as they are inherently intertwined and inseparable. It looks at their interplay.
Further complicating matters, Garcia recognizes that traditional categories used to study differences rely on markers that are often times not static. That is to say a sort of marker - such as English Language Learner - used to identify an individual or group of individuals in one instance, may ultimately shift or change. The markers upon which researchers use to categories groups are not static. Consequently, the changing nature of the markers must be considered in addition to the continual interplay between them.
And finally, it is not just that individuals may fall into multiple categories or that the markers used to define those categories are fluid, but the categories and markers themselves, frequently hold unstated power or status connotations which also must be considered in their research.
All of these factors suggest that the study of educational problems in general (and in the case of the authors’ point - special education issues in particular) extremely challenging. As educational researchers Jordan, Kleinsasser, and Roe might say, the wicked problems of education seem to have become even more wicked.
Why not just treat each individual as… individual? Increasingly, research is demonstrating that the multitude of factors which influence learning requires students to be treated as individuals.
As the author states, “...an intersectionality framework engages researchers in a multi-layered analysis that seeks to uncover the processes by which the experiences of subgroups within a larger identity category are marginalized, through understanding the cultural construction of identities within and across individuals, and uncovering how social, institutional, and political structures shape and reinforce identify formation, and influence identity salience across contexts.” (Garcia, p37) The intersectionality framework, then, encourages both the educational researcher and the educational practitioner with several questions to consider as they engage their topic of study or their students. Among these are, “What are my perceptions, assumptions, and views of difference? Is my (our) cultural understanding sufficient to conduct culturally responsible research that will contribute to more equitable and accessible educational outcomes for all groups of learners?” (p37).
The educational researcher has an easier time dealing with these issues. They are not faced with making the minute by minute decisions that the educational practitioner is, and at the end of the day, the educational researcher can incorporate an escape hatch into their conclusion of their research, “..further research is warranted.” The classroom teacher, the practitioner, however is not afforded such novelties. To do her job well, the practitioner must consider the intersectionality in their decision making, and at the end of the day, their decisions have real consequences on real people. When the practitioner makes a misjudgement about the interplay between the various attributes of an individual and the interplay of those attributes and the attributes of another, or how the culture or context interplay (or, in Garcia’s terms - intersect), there are real people who lose out on the best learning experience possible.
Jordan, M. E., Kleinsasser, R. C., & Roe, M. F. (2014). Wicked problems: inescapable wickedity. Journal of Education for Teaching, 40(4), 415-430
Garcia, S.B. & Ortiz, A.A. (2013). Intersectionality as a framework for transformative research in special education. Multiple Voices for Ethnically Diverse Exceptional Learners, 13(2), 32-47.