Operationalizing Intersectionality in Social Work Research: Approaches and Limitations

Sara Matsuzaka, Kimberly D. Hudson, Abigail M. Ross

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Scopus citations


Despite intersectionality's relevance to social work, scholars have raised concerns that its misguided applications place it "in danger of being co-opted, depoliticized, and diluted."This scoping review examined the use of intersectionality in empirical social work research, specific to the extent, contexts, and degree of responsibility with which it has been applied. Using the search term convention ["social work"OR "social services"] AND ["intersectional"OR "intersectionality"], 22 databases were searched for peer-reviewed research published between 2009 and 2019, yielding 153 articles. The 33 studies meeting inclusion criteria were examined according to two frameworks: (1) typologies for intersectional conceptual approach and (2) intersectionality responsible use guidelines (RUG). Most studies used an intracategorical approach (n = 24), while fewer used an intercategorical (n = 7) or a mixed intra- and intercategorical approach (n = 2). On average, studies met approximately half of the RUG. Studies most frequently (n = 29) aligned with the guideline "Recommend ways to promote positive social transformation and justice through research, teaching, and practice."Studies least frequently (n = 3) conformed to the guideline "Credits Black feminist activist roots of intersectionality."Responsible stewardship is recommended to address power in knowledge production, researcher positionalities, and social justice action.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)155-168
Number of pages14
JournalSocial Work Research
Issue number3
StatePublished - 1 Sep 2021


  • guidelines
  • intercategorical approach
  • intersectionality
  • intracategorical approach
  • social work research


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