Intersectionality & Public Health

Intersectionality, GIScience, & Public Health

American Association of Geographers Annual Conference 2021

Intersectionality (Crenshaw 1989 and more; see Readings) is a conceptual framework developed to better understand how systems of oppression (structural racism, classism, sexism, ableism, etc) intersect, interlock, and reinforce one another to produce disparate experiences, prospects, and outcomes at the axes of race, ethnicity, gender, class, disability status, and so forth. For example, geographer Ruth Wilson Gilmore (2007) defines racism as, “…the state-sanctioned or extra-legal production & exploitation of group-differentiated vulnerability to premature death.” In keeping with Lipsitz (2007), (“...the racialization of space and the spatialization of race. The lived experience of race has a spatial dimension, and the lived experience of space has a racial dimension”), we can understand oppression to be spatialized. Therefore, attending to the linkages between systems of oppression and place is another important consideration as we engage with the intersectionality framework. 

There are multiple theoretical frameworks for conceptualizing the complexity of vulnerability in public health, from political ecology in health geography to risk environment models in HIV/HCV literature, with varying success in being broadly adapted. Yet dominant public health approaches still tend to focus on one indicator or exposure over time, rather than how interacting phenomena produce health disparities in varying ways. For example we often find geographical correlations across multiple indicators for different phenomena that are easily misunderstood as causal, but instead reflect historic community disinvestment, structural racism, and related phenomena that necessitate a more nuanced understanding. 

Data limitations such as inconsistent or absent Census data related to sexual orientation and race/ethnicity, biased reporting of “crime data”, or how patients are digitally represented within electronic health records, can also present challenges to examining intersectional phenomena in population research. For race/ethnicity, the U.S. Census data collection reflects the malleable nature of racial categories that work to maintain whiteness. Furthermore, traditional approaches to public health research often do not consider how individuals’ social and political positionalities interact with collective or community-level positionalities to shape resource allocation, health care navigation, and health outcomes; or how the processes of gendering and racialization shape identities:

It [intersectionality] invites us to understand race, class, & gender as relational concepts: not as attributes of POC the dispossessed, or women but as historically created relationships of differential distribution of resources, privilege, & power, of advantage & disadvantage. (Mullings 2005)

For the AAG 2021 Conference, we invite virtual papers, posters, and panelists to better understand, discuss, and extend the intersectionality conceptual model that’s already well established at an individual level, to the population level, for better translation of these complex and nuanced topics. We are especially interested in how methodological approaches can adapt these conceptual concepts to better model and understand the processes driving health outcomes in more thoughtful ways. Topics that are welcome include:

  • Explorations of intersectionality and public health across multiple modes of inquiry;
  • Critical discussions around the natures of data and measurement in the context of inquiry, evaluation, and policy development;
  • Related challenges and ethics around AI in healthcare;
  • Applied examples that adapt and extend intersectionality conceptual models to population health scales;
  • Methods of quantifying structural racism, historic disinvestment, & related phenomena;
  • Empirical illustrations that demonstrate how individual-level factors interact with collective, community-level factors to shape landscapes and health outcomes;
  • and related concepts.

This session will be virtual, and open to AAG 2021 Conference attandees.

Sessions will be co-organized by: Marynia Kolak (University of Chicago), Arrianna Planey (UNC-Chapel Hill), Kevin Credit (University of Chicago), Qinyun Lin (University of Chicago), & Alexander Hohl (University of Utah). The session topics (and some recommended readings) are part of a wider conversation and symposium development across a coalition of public health researchers including geographers, sociologists, medical researchers, clinicians, and more.

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