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  • Introduction:The Implications for Theory and Practice of Comparing the Treatment of Intersectionality in the Equality Architecture in Europe
  • Mieke Verloo (bio) and Sylvia Walby (bio)

Intersectionality has become an important issue in feminist theory and practice. It has been much debated theoretically, and to some extent even positioned as the normative ideal, but empirically informed analyses—as well as reflections back on theory—are less common. While the criticism of conceptions of discrimination that think about subordination as disadvantage occurring along a single categorical axis (Crenshaw 1989) is clear, the implications for new legal and policy practices are altogether less obvious, and certainly complex. This set of papers engages with theoretical questions and with policy practice on intersectionality: not only assessing the implications of empirical findings for theory, but also the implications of theory for practice.

Here, comparative analysis within the European Union (EU) offers a major contribution to theory and practice. In the context of [End Page 433] the EU and its 27 Member States, many new legal frameworks and institutional arrangements for dealing with multiple inequalities have recently been introduced and put to the test of practice. More specifically, in the EU context, the significance of the intersection of multiple inequalities has been deployed to argue for the rapid restructuring of the equality architecture—including women's policy bodies, gender machinery—in the last few years. The Member States of the EU have been engaged in what is effectively experimentation in the form of equality architecture, within a legal framework that to some extent is shared. In this, they address a range of inequalities that at least includes gender, race/ethnicity, age, religion or belief, (dis)ability, and sexual orientation. In this issue, some papers also accentuate how class inequality is included in the equality institutions (notably Walby, Armstrong, and Strid 2012).

The special issue presented here focuses on the changes within the EU and addresses the theoretical and empirical questions related to these changes, drawing its empirical material from the research in the Quing programme. The Quing research programme,1 financed by the EU under Framework 6, had one strand of its activities (called STRIQ) devoted to issues of intersectionality. This has produced much discussion and many papers on these issues. The overall aim of Quing was to assess the quality of gender+equality policy in the twenty-seven Member States (plus two candidate countries) in the context of a multicultural Europe Union. The debates within Quing mean that the papers proposed for the special issue are informed by cutting edge debates on intersectionality and knowledge of the way that the issue has been raised in varied ways in different EU countries. The order of the papers is deliberate, with the example of Portugal left to the end, since this country probably has the most advanced treatment of intersectionality in its equality architecture in the EU.

The papers in this special issue address the theoretical questions about intersectionality raised by a range of writers, including Crenshaw, McCall, and Hancock, and some of the authors of this special issue (Lombardo and Verloo 2009; Verloo 2006; Walby 2007, 2009, 2011; Walby, Armstrong, and Strid this issue). They each find a way of testing and developing these theoretical writings using insights from empirical studies of the European experiment in different ways to develop an equalities architecture that addresses gender alongside and as connected to other inequalities. The papers all engage with the fundamental questions raised by Crenshaw about political and structural intersectionality and the making visible or invisible of identities, social problems, and equality strategies at the point of intersection of multiple inequalities, such as gender race [End Page 434] and sexual orientation. They engage with Crenshaw's first and still important preposition that inequalities are not separate, and that it is wrong to always see one or the other inequality as dominant because specific inequalities happen at the intersection of two of them. The papers take up further discussions of how we should conceptualize the relations between different inequalities with McCall's distinctions between approaches to intersectionality in terms of intra-categorical, anti-categorical, and inter-categorical practices and Hancock's distinctions between unitary, multiple, and intersectional approaches...


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pp. 433-445
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