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Intersectionality and Mixed Methods Research Design

The combination of multiple methods of social research has been debated for a long time and during the 1980s scholars tended to make a rather radical distinction between quantitative and qualitative approaches. Institutions in some countries have also contributed in establishing this distinction (Howe, 2004: 53-54). Moreover, qualitative work was attributed to exploratory approaches whereas quantitative research was linked to confirmatory analysis (Teddlie and Tashakkori, 2003). The distinction also included specific criticisms. Qualitative methods have been criticized due to the lack of generalization of their outputs or the impossibility of reproducing the research, whereas the critics targeting quantitative methods do so in terms of an overly narrow focus on variables without a consideration of the peculiarities of the cases, or in relation to a lack of reflexivity on the part of the researchers during the whole research process.

The number of scholars rejecting radical methods distinctions increased during the 1990s. These scholars frequently debated issues such as the concept of triangulation that emerged in the '70s (e.g. Denzin, 1970; Jick, 1979; Webb et al., 1966; Olsen, 2003) and more broadly methodological pluralism connected to the need for reflexivity in social research (Popa and Guillermin, 2017; Archibald, 2016; Archibald et al., 2015; Creswell, 2016). In particular, the dissemination of the concept of triangulation (Kelle, 2001; Denzin, 2012) increased the interest in mixing quantitative and qualitative methodological traditions. As Olsen defines it, triangulation means the mixing of approaches in order to obtain two or three viewpoints on the topics studied. It aims to increase learning about the contrasts between apparent self-evidence in interviews, underlying messages in lay discourses, and what appears to be generally evident in surveys, and on the differences between these and their official interpretations (Olsen, 2004: 4). More recently, Denzin (2012) has discussed the risks of confounding triangulation with mixed methods. He suggests the use of mixed methods in the service of social justice, in line with suggestions also articulated by other scholars (Hesse-Biber, 2010; Mertens et al., 2016; Morse, 2011). It is particularly in this sense that intersectionality can serve as a basis for combining qualitative and quantitative approaches. Intersectionality as an analytical approach departs from the recognition of the dynamic complexity attached to plural, interrelated inequalities regarding their construction, evolution and impact on social life. To this end, the aim of this paper is to explore how the intersectionality approach, used in gender research but widely ignored in other areas of social inquiry, can provide a basis of convergence for qualitative and quantitative methods. I provide an example of the development of a research design based on intersectionality principles and combining both methods, to underlie potential ideas that can be used in the practice of future research in further areas of social inquiry.

The paper is organized into three parts. In the first part I explain the concept of intersectionality, including the importance of time and space dimensions, and discuss how this concept can be conceived as a basis for the design of mixed methodologies. In the second part I focus on a concrete empirical example of how to apply this theoretical approach in the practice of mixed-methods research, designed to capture the sequential transnational allocation of employees in jurisdictions existing in a particular period of time during a professionalization processes of IT work. I finally summarize, in the third part, the contribution of this approach, including space and time dimensions, for gender research and other areas of social inquiry.

Intersectionality as basis for designing mixed methodologies research: The importance of time and space

Intersectionality has developed in gender studies during the last two decades as an alternative analytical framework to avoid monolithical perspectives over particular forms of inequalities such as gender or class, and has been widely used in gender research (e.g. Rodriguez et al., 2016). It aims to recognize the interlinked construction and impact of diverse forms of inequality in social life. Basically, intersectionality departs from a conceptualization of plural inequalities, recognizing the complexity regarding their construction, evolution and impact in social life. Inequality categories are understood as dynamic constructions affecting each other simultaneously and mutually in different grades. Intersectionality is a framework and not a completed theory of inequality (Knapp, 2005; Davis, 2008; Anthias, 2012; Kallenberg et al., 2013). The concept's roots are black feminism in the USA and indigenous as well as third world feminism discussions, raised in the context of rejecting frameworks prioritizing particular categories, such as gender in feminism research or race in racism analysis (Collins, 1990; Hooks, 1989; Nash, 2008). Crenshaw coined the term (Crenshaw, 1989). Since then many suggestions have been made to increase the precision and concretization of the concept of intersectionality, particularly for gender research. Whereas some gender scholars emphasize the theoretical potentials of intersectionality (McCall, 2005), others authors focus on its political content (Dhamoon, 2011), or claim it is better to concentrate on methodological innovations and analytical potentials (Hankivsky, 2011, 2010; Wilson, 2013; Hankivsky, 2014), especially for gender research. McCall (2005) distinguishes three main views on intersectionality: an anticategorical questioning processes of categorizations based upon qualitative methods (personal narratives, case studies, etc.); an intracategorical process emphasizing the diversity existing within given categorical groups (where the proposed method for this intersectionality perspective is the focus on marginalized groups); and an intercategorical view, which focuses on the nature of relationships within and between unequal groups. This third perspective uses categories of difference as a departing methodological point. The emphasis on categories in the three perspectives suggested by McCall (2005) has been criticized by some scholars (e.g. Grace, 2010), though others also rely on a "categorical" perspective to develop their concept of intersectionality. For example, Hancock (2013) has shown, in her conceptual tables, how the relationships between diverse categories could serve as an open template to use in the process of empirical research and analytical discoveries (Hankivsky, 2014). The discussion around whether to use or reject categories remains open. Choo and Ferree (2010) have suggested applying another three perspectives to conceptualize intersectionality: group-centered, process-centered and system-centered. Choo and Ferree (2010) favor the latter for analytical purposes because it looks for processes that are interactive and complex as well as historically determined.

The developed ideas rooted in gender theory and research (Carastathis, 2016; Hill Collins and Bilge, 2016; Winker and Degele, 2009), and in the recognition of the complex realities that both intend to address (McCall, 2005), still have not solved inherent conceptual problems with respect to decisions about relevant categories and adequate levels of analysis, or about the nature of the linkages between categories. Moreover, it is not clear why some categories might be empirically relevant in some contexts or influence other categories simultaneously in different contexts in some moments and not in others. However, intersectionality, in the same vein as triangulation, is not conceived as fixed template for research, but as an approach for understanding social relations, in the case of intersectionality particularly those related to social inequalities. As a foundation for this approach towards understanding evolving and situated contextual constructions and meanings of inequalities in social lives and relations, a conceptual framework is needed. In order to build such a conceptual framework it is firstly necessary to reject the idea that intersectionality is an "all in one" analytical principle. The basic recognition of interrelations between social categorizations within intersectionality can serve as a departing point for designing empirical inquiries about which categories, how, why, for how long and in which particular spaces, become relevant for social relations. These interrelations between social categorizations take place in social spaces and locations as well as in timeframes where social relations emerge and evolve.

Social spaces can be understood as the contexts in which social categorization boundaries are constructed through multiple social relations. It is in these spaces where social categories and their mutual intersections become meaningfully situated and are interpreted, enacted, reproduced and changed from the different perspectives and positions that social actors take in different social times (Ruiz Ben, 2009). When it comes to designing empirical inquiries, this recognition of the different positioning of social actors in different social spaces and times coincides with the triangulation claim for integrating different viewpoints in empirical research. Moreover, the need for situating social relations in time and space makes it necessary to apply quantitative and qualitative methods of social research that enable the analysis of situated meanings and their change over time or, in other words, interpretative qualitative methods and quantitative methods offering an overview of transformation paths. Recently, Hankivsky et al. (2015) suggested some basic principles of intersectionality that can be useful for empirical inquiries and for the development of mixed methods beyond categorization disputes. These principles are the intersecting of categories, the multilevel nature of analysis, the importance of power, reflexivity, time, and space, and the involvement of diverse knowledge sources (Hankivsky et al., 2015).

Keeping the principles suggested by Hankivsky (2014) in mind, I suggest intersectionality is considered from a broad methodological viewpoint to further concretize the concept as a heuristic methodological design program to be empirically adapted to particularly situated research questions. In this sense intersectionality constitutes an analytical approach to explore situated inquiries about social inequalities framed by dynamic power relations, situated in particular spaces and evolving in time. For this purpose, more than just a combination of qualitative and quantitative approaches is required to empirically apply the analytical approach of intersectionality for the design of research methodologies. The question at this point is also how, where and in which time sequences these methods should be combined. To develop an adequate design, inequality dimensions and their relations to power should be operationalized, clarifying to what extent of time and space we consider their construction processes as well as their effects. This coincides with Olsen's (2004: 5) claims on the development of mixed methods, suggesting a focus on design skills rather than on separated methods. I add to this, agreeing with Havinsky et al. (2012) that the design should integrate time and space dimensions. Anthias (2012) builds the concept of the "translocal" thinking of spatial, political, and economic locations as contextual and temporal, and basically as a spatial, socially constructed set of configurations which extends beyond the physical space (ibid., 103). Contradictory processes that lead subjects to be placed in contradictory social locations on the basis of simultaneous impact of gender, ethnicity and class should be considered (ibid., 107). Intersectionality, as Anthias remarks, has not explored this issue yet. However it is becoming particularly relevant due to extensive growth of migration all over the world and to diverse forms of mobility, including those enabled by digitalization, especially in relation to work (Ruiz Ben, 2013; Huws, 2014). An intersectional and a transnational approach are simultaneously needed to analyze work allocation processes in a global and increasingly digitalized world. The translocal perspective, combined with intersectionality as Anthias proposes, makes reference to the social locations conceptualized as social spaces defined by boundaries and hierarchies, as processes and structures both contradictory and dynamically reinforcing each other. (1) This means that differences and inequalities between subjects are not characteristics possessed by individuals, but rather sets of processes and configurations (ibid., 108).

The combination of intersectionality with the translocational framework also suggests that contradictory locations may offer parameters to the subjects to potentially open up and transform their situations. In terms of work, the reference to the translocal points at the relational dimension of work in transnational spaces configured by relations of workers, multinationals and international organizations and laws, agreements, treaties, etc. on work, workers' rights, etc. and evolving at the pace of their day-to-day workplace practices, where meanings of social boundaries and hierarchies are enacted. The spatial and time extension and impact of these processes, institutions and structures differ. In empirical terms, this means not only including these operationalized dimensions in the design of the research, but also taking into account the sequentiality of actions in the research design. Should the research begin mapping social structures with quantitative methods or looking at categorizations and meanings by applying qualitative methods? At what point(s) should researchers combine inquiries about social structures and meanings of categorizations?

In the next section I explain how to apply the basic idea of intersectionality (inclusion of space and time dimensions, multilevel analysis, and the intersecting of categories), combining quantitative and qualitative methods in the design of the empirical analysis of transnational professionalisation processes.

The application of an intersectional perspective in the analysis of transnational professionalization processes

As an empirical example to apply intersectional ideas for developing a mixed methods research design, I reformulate my past research about social inequalities in the internationalization of the IT industry (Ruiz Ben, 2013). One of the departing research questions in this finished research* was about the effect of gender and education on the allocation of IT employees in particular work areas of international companies.

As a first step I situate the research in a particular context, defining the space-frame of the professional "ecologies" as the "translocational" in terms of Anthias' (2012) suggestions. The term "ecologies" refers to Abbott's (2005) idea of a set of social relations or interactions between multiple elements, not fully constrained or independent, that comprises three components: actors, locations and relations or "ligations" between actors and locations. Using ecological theory, Abbott emphasizes processes of interaction over preexisting structures in constituting social space. (2)

I argue that work areas are locations that actors attempt to control in translocational ecologies configured by the relations between companies and employees as well as professional associations in different countries (Ruiz Ben, 2013). I focus the framing of the design on these three actors, though other actors take part as well in the translocational ecologies of IT work, such as the companies' clients or adjacent ecologies like consultancy work. To further consider the multilevel dimensions of the "translocational" professionalization processes in IT work, I focus on the following levels and dimensions:

-National (Germany) and international levels (Eastern European countries): (National and international IT related education, national work-family balance policies, IT labor market, IT professional associations, IT professionalism discourses.

-Company level: work areas, education requirements, recruitment practices, IT professionalism discourses, careers and career support policies, work-family balance policies, retention, return to work policies.

-Employee level: education, age, gender, national mobility, social, work, company, career, family, household, children, IT professionalism discourses.

Germany constitutes the departing translocal spatial scope because the research project was conceived to analyze the patterns of the internationalization of the German IT industry. This is also the reason for the selection of the translocal places Poland and Slovenia. Interviews with some project managers in German IT companies revealed that the most frequent destinations for project co-operations cited were these two countries.

The empirical application of an intersectionality perspective requires the inclusion of time in the design methodology. This dimension refers to sequentiality (Abbott, 2016) of events in social relations and in the considered geographical and social spaces. As Abbott (2016: 27 ff.) explains, our experiences have a particular order in which one event happens after another and through which we develop habits over time. Thus, in the research design I consider the past and present allocation experiences of employees in international companies.

Time Frames

I apply a retrospective view for the operationalization of indicators that will be firstly explored through secondary sources. The aim is to capture the sequential allocation of employees in jurisdictions existing in a particular period of time of professionalization processes in IT work. I have selected different timeframes at the three levels of research: two decades at the national level, company history since its foundation (after the 1990s) and fifteen years at the level of employees. The indicators at the national level should show how IT work and related IT professionalism discourses, as well as education, care, and work-life family policies, have evolved since the IT industry internationalization boom began in the nineteen nineties due to the increased ability to offshore tasks. Within these national scenarios and timeframes, multinational companies have played a major role in the professionalization of IT work. At the research level of the companies, the focus is on the development of IT work jurisdictions and careers, as well as the demand for qualifications and skills. Moreover, the institutionalized care, work-life balance, and mobility policies in the time period since the foundation of the companies (after the 1980s) will be explored through document analysis. At the interaction level of the employees the time-frame is reduced to fifteen years in order to reconstruct the possible intergenerational differences related to education, IT work and career trajectories. At this level, the reconstruction of the employees' allocation in jurisdictional fields using secondary sources will be contrasted with the present experiences and narratives histories of employees (men and women with different educational backgrounds and located in different international companies).


Taking professionalization of IT work in the "translocational" spaces defined above as a departing point, the sample for the analysis of the processes that led IT employees to be placed in particularly professional jurisdictions should include the actors contributing to creating and establishing these professional spaces. Company managers, professional associations and educational institutions play important roles in this process. However the IT professionals themselves working in the professional jurisdictions, "make sense" of the process in their day-to-day working practices in different locations. How the professional jurisdictions "make sense" for the employees and how the meanings of these jurisdictions are related to gender are questions to be addressed with a qualitative approach including interviews, workplace observations and focus groups. The research concentrates on employees from selected multinational companies working in their nation of origin and those who are working in other companies' locations for a time period during the 15 years considered as the time framework for the analysis at the employee level. Within these two groups the sample selection should take into account the balance between men and women. In order to ensure a sample with representativeness and validity, the selection of the sample should be decided once the information about participation in the different work areas and career levels is available.

Indicators and Qualitative Materials: Mixed Methods

To understand how employees are connected to work in translocational IT spaces, quantitative indicators are needed, but also an approach to the particular meaning that the actors attach to work. Whereas the indicators give us an overview of the situations and the structures and dynamics of the contexts, the semantics of these situations emerge through people's interactions during their day-to-day practices and through their mobility decisions and the meanings they attribute to them along their life-events that can be captured with qualitative methods. To gain information about the semantics of the work locations and the links between people and their work, a number of methods can be employed: interviews with managers and employees; group discussions about the nature of work and how it has changed as the companies have developed into international arenas; discussions about employees' career trajectories, their entry, mobility and progression in the translocational spaces; and the interpretation of the work structures and chances (as expectations) of both managers and employees. Gender categorizations will be examined departing from the narratives of the interviews, looking at the experiences of women and men, their interpretations about ligations to work and to the events in terms of education and work mobility. Here the researchers will focus on how education and gender use different forms of categorization and control. Following Nash (2008: 13) these categories (gender and education) should be analyzed as a co-constitutive process as well as distinctive and historically specific technologies of categorization. Moreover, the way in which they become relevant in the different spaces considered for the analysis should also be analyzed.

Interviews and focus groups with representatives of the companies, about the outputs of quantitative analysis of work allocations, served to capture the interpretation of gender and education differences in terms of work allocations at the company level as well. Further, the analysis of documents about professionalism in the different locations of the selected companies, as well as from professional associations at the international and national level, will show the "sedimentation" of the professionalization process and its institutionalization. How relevant are these institutional "sediments" of professionalization for the actors in the translocational ecologies as well as beyond theses spaces is an issue to be investigated in the interviews and focus groups. Due to the rapid changes characterizing the IT industry, long-term institutionalized discourses of professionalism are supposedly weak in the path of professionalization of IT work. However, at the level of the companies, the discourses of professionalism might be linked to the particular employment policies that affect gender, age, educational background or nationality categorizations. At this level, professionalism discourses can serve as an "appeal" (Evetts, 2011) to justify and "signify" the need for employees to be self-disciplined and, through their practices, prioritize their company's targets over personal circumstances. This then contributes to creating categorizations privileging those employees who can mobilize more resources (time, knowledge, information, social contacts, etc.). In these terms, professionalism discourses at the company level can indicate what type of employees are expected for what kind of work in particular locations, or in other words the institutionalization of professional expectations. Again, their relevance for the employees' decisions on professional, work and career mobility should be an issue for interviews and focus groups.

Table 1 summarizes the processual combination of quantitative and qualitative methods proposed for the intersectional analysis of the professionalization of IT work. In a first phase, company data and documents from the selected companies are analyzed to design the focus themes of the interviews and the sample in phase two. During the third phase, the researchers conduct the fieldwork that will be analyzed in the fourth phase, through interviews and workplace observations. This analysis serves to generate new hypotheses for a second analysis of the companies' data as well as for producing a guide with themes to discuss in focus groups. During a fifth phase the previously conducted analysis of the quantitative data will be combined and the focus groups will take place. In the sixth phase the results of the interview and focus group analyses are contrasted and connected to the outputs of the combined data analysis made in the fifth phase.

This design allows one to prove the validity of qualitative outputs along the different phases of research including perspectives of different actors, but also from different spaces and moments in time. At the same time, the outputs from quantitative analysis can be contrasted with interpretations from actors in the research field, allowing reinterpretations and new inquiries into the data.

Intersectional Perspective in Practice: Linking the Impact of Several Dimensions through Empirical Design

Once the location and time perspectives, as well as the indicators and qualitative materials, have been defined for operationalization purposes, the intersectional perspective should be applied in the practice of the empirical research. This means combining the analysis of the selected dimensions at the different research levels in order to discover possible interlinked influences on the connection of persons to IT work. Grace (2014) emphasizes four main aspects to consider in the research design applying intersectionality concepts: timing, weighting, mixing and theorizing. Timing refers to the questions of whether the data would be collected sequentially, at once or longitudinally. Weighting deals with the combination of qualitative and quantitative methods, whether one approach is more heavily focused on or whether they are equally balanced. Mixing refers to how the approaches are combined. The last point is related to the way of interpreting the results and extracting theoretical conclusions from them. All these aspects are nonetheless always dependent on specific research questions. In the case study used in this paper, the idea is to explore allocation of employees along the professionalization process of IT work. A processual design (retrospective and prospective) is thus the most appropriate time perspective in which to capture this process. Moreover, related to weighting, the proposed approach does not privilege quantitative or qualitative inquiries. The idea is for each perspective to enrich the analysis in complementary ways, as suggested with the triangulation approach. This also means an increase in the scope, the depth and the consistency of the methodology, including a processual perspective and considering time as a process of cumulative validation and as a means to create a more complete picture of the phenomena to be explored (Flick, 1998: 230ff.).

Discussion and Conclusions

In this paper I have shown how the basic ideas of intersectionality (inclusion of space and time dimensions, multilevel analysis, and the intersecting of categories) can be applied in the practice of mixed methods research. Moving beyond methodological disputes between qualitative and quantitative approaches, I have suggested combining these ontologies through a research design asserting the centrality of the research question(s) in every investigation. I depart from the assumption that social categorizations are interrelated in space and time in a continuous process through which they can change and contradict each other in different locations and time moments. The basic ideas of intersectionality coincide with some assumptions of mixed methods research about considering multiple perspectives in research methodologies. They also include the notion of change and transformation of social relations and structures. This is particularly important for the analysis of work and professionalisation which I have used as an example for applying intersectionality ideas to combine quantitative and qualitative methods. As a theoretical basis for this example I draw on processual assumptions of Abbott's (2005) theory of linked ecologies. This theoretical framework is particularly fruitful for the development of mixed methods and also shares some crucial assumptions of intersectionality about change and relationality of social relations. In particular, the research into employment can benefit from the framework. In this paper I have moved forward to connect the sociology of work with spatial notions of economic geography and to addressed multiple linked identities that workers bring to work in multiple linked ecologies, which employers then seek to control with diverse and increasingly pervasive techniques. Empirically the sociology of work has rarely used mixed methods. It has mostly applied qualitative techniques such as discourse analysis, generally embedded in a social constructionist ontology, to research these related identities and the control of work at the micro-level of the individual workplace (Baldry et al., 2007), particularly inspired by Foucault's ideas. In contrast, studies at the macro level of the economy have generally used quantitative methods and focused on employment surveys (e.g. Gallie, 2007). Questions about the connections between different occupations and tasks in emerging transnational spaces, their differentiation and categorizations requiring the use of multiple research perspectives and cross-validations have been neglected.

I have shown how a combination of quantitative and qualitative methods can be designed, proving in several phases the cross-validity, assumptions, and interpretations of the analysis. This also implies the reflections of the researchers themselves about their expectations in the field and their role in relation to their informants. For this purpose, focus groups are included in the last phases of the research as an additional cross-validity source for the analyzed materials. Further, following Grace (2014), timing, weighting, mixing and theorizing should be considered for the concrete applications of the research design. This brings us back to the beginning, or rather to the aim of the research. Every decision about the design and its concrete application is always dependent on the primary research question that the researchers want to investigate. At this point, intersectionality, as well as mixed methods and processual ideas, constitute basic assumptions for approaching social problems and are not an "all in one" analytical template. In this paper I have shown how to apply these assumptions in the design of research combining mixed methods, limited to a question about the professionalisation of work. However, the flexibility of the intersectional analytical approach allows this application to be expanded into other areas of social research.

(*) This research was funded by the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG) (German Science Foundation).


(1.) Anthias explains in relation to the "translocational": "Translocational denotes the ways in which social locations are products of particular constellations of social relations, and in terms of relationality and experience at determinate points in time, it considers them within a spatial and temporal context" (Anthias, 2012: 108).

(2.) See Liu and Emirbayer (2016) for a discussion about the differences and commonalities between the concepts of ecology and field in social theory.


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ESTHER RUIZ BEN Institute of Sociology, The Technical University of Berlin

How to cite: Ruiz Ben, Esther (2018). "Intersectionality in the Practice of Mixed Methods Gender Research," Journal of Research in Gender Studies 8(1): 73-88.

Received 25 September 2017 * Received in revised form 13 November 2017

Accepted 15 November 2017 * Available online 10 December 2017

Table 1 Processual combination of quantitative and qualitative methods

              1st Phase     2nd Phase   3rd Phase

Quantitative  1st Data      Interviews
              analysis      design
              (work         (sample
              trajectories  and
              companies'    themes)
Qualitative   Document      Interviews  Interviews
              analysis      design      and
              (work         (themes)    workplace
              policies)                 observations

              4th Phase    5th Phase     6th Phase

Quantitative  2nd Data     Combination   Combination
              analysis     of 1st and    of Data
              (hypo-       2nd analysis  analysis and
              thesis                     Interviews +
              generated                  Focus
              from                       groups
Qualitative   Analysis     Focus
              of           groups
              themes for
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Author:Ben, Esther Ruiz
Publication:Journal of Research in Gender Studies
Article Type:Report
Date:Jan 1, 2018

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