Intersectionality and habitus as methodology

Year: 2013

Author: Dumenden, Iris, White, Julie, Slee, Roger, Maguire, Meg

Type of paper: Abstract refereed


In this paper, we outline an analytical framework through which we propose to explore and explain the effects of the intersection of race, class and gender on the educational trajectories of students from refugee families. In particular, our interest relates to access and success within higher education.  For this, we draw upon multiple sources: (1) theoretically, from Bourdieu’s concepts of habitus and cultural capital; (2) methodologically, from the concept of intersectionality; and (3) empirically, from two significant studies from the UK that examined the effects of race, class and gender on issues of choice and access in relation to higher education (Reay, David & Ball, 2005), and the educational perspectives, strategies and experiences of the Black middle class in England (Ball, Rollock, Vincent & Gillborn, 2011). These two different but conceptually related studies support an analytical framework that combines Bourdieu’s habitus and cultural capital with intersectionality.  On one hand we draw upon Reay et al’s (2005) study, where habitus and cultural capital were used to examine embodied experiences of race, class and gender – and their relationships to educational perspectives, strategies and choice in higher education. On the other hand, Ball et al’s (2011: 21) finding that, for the Black middle class, the ‘complex and changing intersections of race and class and gender…are points and moments of oppression and strategy’ point to the usefulness of intersectionality as a methodology. As McCall (2005: 1771) has noted, intersectionality is helpful in the study of the ‘relationships among multiple dimensions and modalities of social relations and subject formations.’ Thus, by drawing together habitus, cultural capital, intersectionality and the findings of the two studies, we assert that a study of the educational experiences and trajectories of students from refugee families should focus on: (1) the embodied experiences of race, class and gender by refugee families; and (2) the complex intersections of race, class, gender and the refugee experience.  In this paper, we explain this proposed framework in more detail.