Category Archives: Social justice and equality

Applying intersectionality in policy and practice

ChristoffersenAshlee Christoffersen

My recent article in Policy & Politics, The politics of intersectional practice: Competing concepts of intersectionality, shares findings from the first empirical study internationally to explore how both practitioners and policymakers themselves understand how to operationalise ‘intersectionality’. I found that there are five contradictory uses of ‘intersectionality’, some of which further equality for intersectionally marginalised communities, while others actually deepen inequalities (Table 1). In this post I share key recommendations arising for both policy and ‘practice’ (the work of third sector practitioners – delivering services, community development and policy advocacy). These findings also hold relevance for public sector practitioners and grassroots organisations.

Operationalising intersectionality

While race, class, gender and gender identity, disability status, ethnicity, sexual orientation, nationality, migration status, and faith continue to be important markers of inequality, and often increasingly so, they have predominantly been addressed separately. The idea of ‘intersectionality’ is to focus on the ways that they operate simultaneously and shape one another. Intersectionality names Black women’s theory and activism concerning experiences of gendered racism and racialised sexism. This theory has long been articulated by Black women not only in the US where the term emerged, but also in the UK. Intersectionality is the understanding that inequalities are interdependent and indivisible from one another: ‘race, class, gender, sexuality, ethnicity, nation, ability, and age operate not as unitary, mutually exclusive entities, but rather as reciprocally constructing phenomena’.

Kimberlé Crenshaw used the term ‘intersectionality’ to describe the ways that Black women’s experiences and identities are marginalised by tendencies to treat race and gender as mutually exclusive categories in antidiscrimination law, feminism, and antiracist movements, with all focusing on the most powerful/privileged members of groups (e.g. white women) and taking them as representatives of the group as a whole.

This failure to consider intersectionality is still widespread in the UK. For example, interventions concerning domestic abuse have tended to focus on heterosexual relationships among cisgender people, so members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, queer and intersex (LGBTQI)+ community have been largely excluded from efforts to mitigate the issue and to provide services to those affected.

Since little progress has been made with the separate single issue approach (targeting only one inequality such as gender or race) in terms of achieving equality for the most marginalised, there is growing recognition that pursuing social justice requires policy makers and organisations to engage with intersectionality. Yet while interest in it grows, intersectionality is widely thought to be a challenging theory to apply, and it represents a puzzle to policy makers and practitioners who work in both issue area and ‘equality strand’ silos (of e.g. race, gender, and disability). In the UK, intersectionality has been steadily growing in popularity, partly owing to the Equality Act 2010, which brought together anti-discrimination legislation on separate issues, and raised awareness of multiple inequalities. Yet, the meanings of intersectionality and the ways that it is used are a subject of debate: for example, it is often emptied of its attention to race , and social justice. The use of ‘intersectionality’ to describe intersections other than race/gender is not uncontroversial.

Competing concepts of intersectionality

The project identified that there are five competing applied concepts of intersectionality that circulate in UK third sector equality organising and policy. Given that there are different concepts of intersectionality used, it is important to carefully examine the specific meanings given to intersectionality in equality policy and practice.

Table intersectionality part 1Intersectionality table 1.2

Recommendations for policy and practice

Inersectionality Table 2.1

Recommendations to policymakers and funders

  • Explore and specify the applied concepts of intersectionality that you use: advocate for ‘intersections of strands’ and pan equality concepts instead of generic, multi-strand and diversity within ones. Intersectionality can be applied in context-specific interventions
  • Fund intersectional organisations and alliances, which present models for intersectional practice
  • Hold single issue equality organisations accountable for facilitating meaningful participation and self-representation of intersectionally marginalised groups

I am a Research Fellow at the University of Edinburgh, and former practitioner in the equality third sector. Find out more about my research here and here @DrAshlee_C.

You can read the original research in Policy & Politics:

Christoffersen, Ashlee (2021) ‘The politics of intersectional practice: competing concepts of intersectionality’,  Policy & Politics, DOI:

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Investing in social justice?

LaruffaFrancesco Laruffa

Social investment is an increasingly influential approach – both among policymakers and social policy scholars – which emphasizes the economic benefits of welfare state interventions. Improving people’s education, for example, not only ameliorates their wellbeing but also their productive potential, thereby contributing to economic growth.

Critics of this approach have argued that social investment tends to replace value-based considerations (e.g. based on notions of needs and rights) with an economic evaluation of social policy, e.g. conceiving individuals narrowly and instrumentally as “human capital”. By substituting “social” logic with cost-benefit calculations, social investment may also lead to the adoption of policies that reinforce the marginalisation of vulnerable groups. Indeed, the economic rationale suggests focusing policies on those groups that offer the highest returns on investment in terms of employment and productivity. But what about deprived groups who have no valuable “human capital” to offer? Continue reading Investing in social justice?

How the political framing of the principle of basic income encouraged it to be seriously debated resulting in an implementation experiment in Finland

PerkioJohanna Perkiö

There is a pressing need for policies that will help to overcome some of the intractable social and economic problems of our time, such as increasing economic inequality, growing insecurity and labour market polarisation, and, most importantly, the climate change crisis. Both academics and policymakers will need to learn to think ‘outside the box’ to explore new ideas and solutions. Continue reading How the political framing of the principle of basic income encouraged it to be seriously debated resulting in an implementation experiment in Finland

P&P annual prize announcement

P&P prize winners

By Sarah Ayres, Felicity Matthews and Steve Martin
Co-editors of Policy & Politics

We are delighted to announce the 2020 prizes for award winning papers published in Policy & Politics in 2019. Continue reading P&P annual prize announcement

Super Interest Groups and the Diffusion of Stand Your Ground Laws in the U.S. States

demora image 4







Stephanie DeMora, Loren Collingwood, Adriana Ninci

As recently as last week, Stand Your Ground (SYG) laws were used to  States justify killing as self-defense. In Georgia, three young men were shot and killed in what is being called an attempted murderIn the most well-known SYG case, George Zimmerman claimed self-defense in the murder of Trayvon Martin in Florida in 2012 

demora image 1

Florida was one of the first states to pass Stand Your Ground or No Duty to Retreat legislation in 2005. SYG legislation then spread rapidly to many states throughout the country. Research shows a significant increase in murder rates in states with Stand Your Ground laws. Our research showed that SYG laws passed after Florida’s were not only similar in content, but almost textually identical from state to state. We investigated this phenomenon further in our recent Policy & Politics article entitled “The Role of Super Interest Groups in Public Policy Diffusion”   Continue reading Super Interest Groups and the Diffusion of Stand Your Ground Laws in the U.S. States

Democracy needs more than just voice: coping with communicative plenty

Ercan_Hendricks_DryzekSelen A. Ercan, Carolyn M. Hendriks and John S. Dryzek

Imagine a crowded restaurant that is starting to get noisy. The noise at each table begins to rise as people try to make themselves heard. Eventually the noise becomes so loud that nobody can hear anything. Here’s a familiar context where there is plenty of expression, but precious little listening, and not much good conversation.

The noisy restaurant is a metaphor, we believe, for what we see in contemporary democracy where citizens have plenty of opportunities to express their views and opinions about anything that concerns them, but there is no guarantee and little likelihood that these views will be listened to, reflected upon, and/or taken up by decision-making bodies.

Continue reading Democracy needs more than just voice: coping with communicative plenty

The importance of evidence-based policy making, why measurement matters, and Claire Dunlop on learning from failure.

Sarah Brown2

by Sarah Brown, Journal Manager

Free research articles for APPAM 2017 from Policy & Politics on the importance of evidence-based policy making, why measurement matters and, Claire Dunlop on learning from failure.

In celebration of APPAM’s Fall Research Conference theme this year which looks at the importance of measurement in evaluating policy and performance, we have developed a virtual issue of recent research articles based on the conference theme which are free to access from 1-30 November. Just click on the hyperlinks below to go straight to the download page for each article.

Download the articles before 30 November while they’re free to access! Continue reading The importance of evidence-based policy making, why measurement matters, and Claire Dunlop on learning from failure.

The challenge of superdiversity for urban planning

Simon Pemberton

by Simon Pemberton

In our recent Policy & Politics article published as part of a special issue on superdiversity we reflect on the increasing importance of the implications of superdiversity for urban planning, as well as the equality of outcomes of planning practices. We highlight a number of points for consideration.

First, relatively little work has been done on the role of urban planning in responding to migration-related superdiversity. Continue reading The challenge of superdiversity for urban planning

A matter of public knowledge? Inquiring into the Grenfell Tower disaster

John Clarke

By John Clarke

An extended version of this post was originally published in Discover Society on 4 October 2017.

The continuing controversies about the public inquiry into the Grenfell Tower fire point to real conflicts about how we – the public – are supposed to know about such matters. At the heart of these controversies is a crisis of knowledge in which different ways of knowing (and their social and political implications) are in dispute: who gets to ask the questions and what questions get asked? What information should be included, what knowledge is considered valid and invalid, and who gets to make those judgements?  Bundled up in these arguments are problems about the relationship between evidence, expertise and experience, as survivors and nearby residents demand a form of inquiry that is responsive to their needs and concerns. The problem is that public inquiries are rarely designed in such terms: rather they aim to be evidence-based, legal in approach and formally authoritative. This classic public inquiry model seeks to impose a cool and dispassionate gaze on the horrors of Grenfell. Continue reading A matter of public knowledge? Inquiring into the Grenfell Tower disaster

The Welfare State on the Chopping Block

zach_morrisZach Morris, Assistant Professor, Stony Brook University School of Social Welfare

Zach Morris, 2017 winner of our Bleddyn Davies Prize for the best article from an early career scholar, summarises the findings from his winning article, which is free to read until 15 June 2017.

With the Republican Party in power in the US, the welfare state is once again on the chopping block. And disability benefit programs – traditionally designed for the “deserving poor” – may not be protected from these cuts. So, what political strategies are retrenchment advocates pursuing? And will their efforts succeed?

As discussed in my P&P article, a major safeguard against disability benefit retrenchment in the US is its structural positioning as a “Social Security” program. In the UK, the disability benefit program has always been considered distinct from the old-age “State Pension” program. But in the US, the disability and old age programs have historically been grouped together under the auspices of the Social Security Administration. This connection between disability benefits and the more popular old-age program provides a form of institutionalized protection to the US disability program and is a major reason why that program has historically proven so difficult to cut. Continue reading The Welfare State on the Chopping Block