Intersectionality may be seen in two ways: one is to look at it from the point of view of the intersections in peoples lives in terms of the different positions they hold in relation to gender, race and class and other social categories. The second way of looking at intersections is not so much a question of finding out what inequalities exist and for whom, but to understand the processes involved.
During the 1980s, many women of color scholars challenged feminist scholarship for its primary focus on gender. They questioned whether gender could or should serve as the primary category of analysis for understanding women's subordination. They argued that to privilege gender overlooked how women's lives, including their economic and social locations, were also shaped by race and class.
With the increased presence of women of color into the academy following the political mobilizations of the Civil Rights Movement and affirmative action programs, research by and about women of color expanded in the early 1980s. This created a new field of scholarship dedicated to the study of women of color, and marked the beginning of what is now known as the "race, class, and gender" scholarship. What emerged was distinct from "race and class" scholarship and "(white) feminist" scholarship.
A major internal critique of RGC studies is that toe voices challenging the assumptions of mainstream disciplines, including sociology, have focused mainly on issues associated with gender (see Eisenberg' s chapter and Bayne-Smith's chapter), while race and class have received relatively limited attention. Indeed, some research appears to have not given a great deal of attention to class at all in the RGC paradigm. There are fewer studies with class at the center in RGC studies, for example, than either race or gender.
In addition, toe past twenty years of the multicultural transformation have begun to "legitimize" the works of women, the working class, and people of color. However, research in RGC studies itself is in the midst of a critical transition or paradigm shift just as was scholarship in toe late 1960s, 1970s and 1980s, when women of color called into question toe exclusionary and marginalizing theories and practices of traditional canons as well as patricentric Ethnic studies and Eurocentric women's studies.
The central issue for intersectionality theory is the understanding that women experience oppression in varying configurations and in varying degrees of intensity. The explanation for that variation is that while all women potentially experience oppression on the basis of gender, women are, nevertheless, differentially oppressed by the varied intersections of other arrangements.
The argument in intersectionality theory is that it is intersection itself that produces a particular experience of oppression, and one cannot arrive at an adequate explanation by using an additive strategy of gender plus race, plus class, plus sexuality, for example, shows that black women frequently experience discrimination in employment because they are black women, but courts routinely refuse to recognize this discrimination - unless it can be shown to be a case of what is considered general discrimination, "sex discrimination," or "race discrimination.
Interest in intersectionality largely grew from the critique of gender- and race-based research, which failed to account for the complexity of the lived experiences of people who identify as, or are labelled with, specific identity categorizations. Accordingly, it is argued that ignoring one mode of oppression weakens an analysis because an integral stratifying force is overlooked.
There exist various forms of feminist theory concerning intersectionality. While post structuralists are more associated with anti-categorical intersectionality theorizing, those aligned with identity politics, social constructionism, and or strategic empiricism tend to work within an intercategorical model. McCall (2005) argues for an intercategorical approach too, suggesting scholars “provisionally adopt existing analytical categories to document relationships of inequality among social groups and changing conﬁgurations of inequality along multiple and conﬂicting dimensions."
The theory of intersectionality, following the aforementioned ‘theoretical and political commitment’ was an analytical response to the myth of racially neutral gendered sameness and its subsequent whiteness. It was the theoretical end to the singular notion of ‘woman’, which, with the recognition of inter-axis differences and a theoretical turn to intra-axis differences, turned into the notion of ‘women’. Where the idea of woman pointed to a homogenising conceptualisation of gender, women offered a non-unified, differentiated, hence a multiple category; as an axis of social signification and analysis, gender in isolation was, at least in theory, rejected.