Palgrave Handbook of Intersectionality in Public Policy
Olena Hankivsky and Julia S. Jordan-Zachery, eds.
A handbook on intersectionality in public policy might seem like a strange choice of a book to add to a law library collection. However, I disagree. For anyone considering a career that involves political leadership, lawmaking, regulatory affairs, community advocacy, or diplomacy, this book presents important information about how policy decisions impact people who face systemic societal disadvantages that may be overlooked or misunderstood.
“Intersectionality,” when used in a critical studies context, means the analysis of issues faced by people who identify with more than one (disadvantaged or marginalized) societal group. Because I am currently working on a critical legal studies research guide for the library, I have been thinking a lot about intersectionality lately. I have come to believe that it would be irresponsible to research an issue involving systemic discrimination or oppression without considering the issues faced by targeted groups in an intersectional way.
Intersectionality, as a scholarly concept, was actually introduced by a legal scholar (and HLS alumna), Kimberle Williams Crenshaw, who is the first scholar cited in the book’s introduction. Professor Crenshaw, in her work, explores topics that intersect critical race studies and feminist jurisprudence. In her earliest writing on the topic, a 1989 University of Chicago Legal Forum article, Demarginalizing the Intersection of Race and Sex: A Black Feminist Critique of Antidiscrimination Doctrine, Feminist Theory, and Antiracist Policies, Professor Crenshaw argued that a “single-axis framework” of gender discrimination negates Black women because it “limit(s) inquiry to otherwise-privileged members of the group.” This limitation, she claims, “marginalizes those who are multiply-burdened.”
This book is much more than a philosophical inquiry into discrimination and oppression. Instead, the book “brings together international scholars, across a variety of sectors and disciplines, to consider how intersectionality informs policy research and analysis.” (p. 2) Its contributions demonstrate how critical policy studies approaches to research can and should expand scholarly inquiry to include both policy makers and regular people who are variously situated, thereby achieving a more democratic, just, and empowering analysis of policy issues. According to contributors Hankivsky and Cormier, using an intersectional approach “encourages a different way of looking at all aspect of policy: how problems are defined, how solutions are developed and implemented, and how policy is ultimately evaluated.” (p. 73)
The contributions in Part I of the book provide an introduction to intersectionality as a scholarly discipline and, together with Part II, introduce various research methodologies that are useful for exploring intersectionality in the context of public policy, including empiricism. The works included in Parts III and IV provide community-based perspectives on (a) policy-based intersectional discrimination and marginalization and (b) strategies for effective engagement and advocacy in the targeted communities. Part V focuses on the intersectional problems that result from colonization. Finally, Part VI presents information about confronting emerging intersectional challenges.
Several works focusing on non-U.S. jurisdictions are included in the book, including China, Uganda, South Africa, Australia, the Netherlands, Ukraine, Denmark, Colombia, Brazil, Chile, Palestine, Argentina, Canada, Scotland, and Uruguay.
This book provides an excellent introduction to intersectionality as a scholarly discipline, together with informative examples of how failing to consider issues of discrimination and marginalization in an intersectional way can hurt vulnerable people. The contributions are highly readable, not overly long, and include reference lists, which is a typical feature for a research handbook of this type. Students who are considering a critical legal studies research project, especially one that explores policy impacts on marginalized populations, would do well to give it a look.