Embodying Inequality Activity: Teaching Intersectionality with Ethnographic Data


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Intersectionality is an analytic concept that signifies ways that inequalities may overlap to create unique forms of privilege and subjugation (Crenshaw 1989, 1991; Hill Collins 2009; Hill Collins and Bilge 2016). However, intersectionality is a perplexing concept for students to grasp (Naples 2009). A recurring puzzle for some sociology instructors is the following: how do we help students make sense of intersectionality (to effectively articulate how overlapping forms of oppression systematically operate) without reproducing intersectionality as an abstract academic concept? In other words, how do we help students see intersectionality as a concept grounded in real experiences with inequality and privilege? To address this issue, we designed an interactive activity to help students better understand intersectionality in a way that is complex, embodied, and based on findings from published ethnographic research. In the activity students use assigned vignettes from the perspective of research participants in our own ethnographic data (including excerpts from interviews and fieldnotes) to interact with peers assigned both similar and dissimilar perspectives and experiences. The vignettes draw attention to intersectionality in a way that helps students embody participants’ experiences with privilege and subjugation. We present here two iterations of the activity that draw from our distinct ethnographic projects. We also suggest that instructors could develop vignettes for this activity from their own research or from others’ published ethnographic work. The activity demonstrates that when learning is interactive, dialogical, and draws from real narratives, students and instructors can effectively explore nuanced interpretations of relatively tough concepts, such as intersectionality....


Resource Type(s):
Class Activity 
Jeffrey A Gardner
Ashleigh E McKinzie 
Date Published:
Subject Area:
Race, Class and Gender 
Class Level:
Class Size:

Usage Notes:

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The instructor should prepare students for the activity in the previous class lecture, discussion, and/or assigned readings by introducing the concept of intersectionality. Specifically, students should be familiar with intersectionality signifying that different forms of domination overlap (e.g., racism, classism, and sexism) as a system of oppression that creates unique...

Learning Goals and Assessments:

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Goal 1:
Students will be able to convey how intersecting inequalities are “real” from the perspective of research participants.
Assessment 1:
This goal may be assessed through the student interior monologue free-writing exercise, student responses on the meet-and-greet handout, and/or the group responses to the vignettes.
Goal 2:
Students will be able to define intersectionality as an analytic concept for understanding intersecting identities and ways that social institutions create forms of power, privilege, and subjugation.
Assessment 2:
This goal may be assessed through class discussion and the written responses to the prompt that asks students to define intersectionality at the end of the activity.
Goal 3:
Students will demonstrate the ability to think critically about how their own positionalities are shaped by different institutional and historical forces.
Assessment 3:
This goal may be assessed through the concluding free-writing exercise that asks students to reflect on the activity and how intersectionality could help them make sense of their own experiences with intersecting forms of inequality and privilege.

Files for Download:

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Embodying Inequality Activity Instructions and Handout.pdf
Example Modification of the Activity.pdf