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Teaching Adolesence

New Special Issue on Intersectionality and Its Applications to Developmental Science

What does good intersectional research look like? What questions should researchers be grappling with?

There is growing interest among developmental scientists in the applications of intersectionality to the study of adolescence. Although definitions and descriptions of intersectionality vary, this body of work is generally believed to argue that systemic oppressions (e.g., racism, able-ism, heterosexism, etc.) overlap to create unique conditions for individuals; conditions that are bound by the social contexts one is embedded in, and with implications for one’s well-being and development. This perspective raises critical and important questions about the study of adolescence. For example, How do we best theorize and measure overlapping oppressions among adolescents? How are overlapping oppressions experienced and how do they contribute to adolescents’ lives? Despite intersectionality’s increased popularity and presence in various fields, developmental scientists’ grappling with the emphasis on systemic overlapping oppressions has been limited.

Given the potential of intersectionality to push us in novel directions within adolescence science, SRA funded a study group on intersectionality called the “Intersectionality in the Developmental Sciences” (IDS) study group. One of the first products to emerge from this study group is a peer-reviewed issue of New Directions for Child and Adolescent Development entitled “Envisioning the Integration of an Intersectional Lens in Developmental Science.” This special issue begins with an introduction by myself (Carlos Santos) and Russ Toomey which highlights key issues in the integration of intersectionality in adolescent research. It discusses ways to responsibly engage with intersectionality in research, how it might broadly inform theories in adolescent research, and implications for the science of adolescence as a whole. Contributors of this special issue were asked to grapple with the following question: How can an intersectionality perspective inform the developmental phenomena of interest and particular developmental theories you draw upon in your area of research? The product is a set of articles that push us to think about the applications of intersectionality to key areas of research in developmental science, including: critical consciousness, social responsibility, settings research with a focus on neighborhoods, identity development, and neurobiological stress associated with minority stress. The issue also includes a contribution by Moin Syed and Alex Ajayi highlighting themes across papers these papers, and drawing out the implications of intersectionality for the future of developmental science. The issue ends with a commentary by Jens Beckmann, an editorial board member of New Directions for Child and Adolescent Development.

We hope our colleagues who draw on intersectionality and those with an interest in this critical framework consider reading this special issue and grappling with the very question we posed to our contributors: How can an intersectionality perspective, and its emphasis on overlapping systemic oppressions, inform the developmental phenomena of interest and particular developmental theories you draw upon in your area of research? Consistent with our experience editing this issue, we hope that reading how contributors grappled with this question in their line of research can serve as a template for how you might engage with it in your own research.

By Carlos Santos, PhD

Image by ikostudio/AdobeStock

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