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Race, gender and class shape the experience of all people. This fact has been widely documented in research and, to some extent, is commonly understood. New studies interpret race, gender, class as interlocking categories of experience that affect all aspects of life; thus they simultaneously structure the experiences of all people in society. At any moment, race, class or gender may feel more salient or meaningful in a given persons life, but they are overlapping and cumulative on their effect on people's experiences.
Because of their simultaneity in people's lives we advocate using the approach of a "matrix of domination" to analyze race, class, and gender as different but interrelated axes of social structure. A matrix of domination posits multiple, interlocking levels of domination that stem from the societal configuration of race, class,and gender relations. This structural pattern affects individual consciousness, group interaction, and group access to institutional power and privileges (Collins 1990).
Race, Gender, Class analysis invites us to distinguish between "thinking comparatively" and "thinking relationally." People think comparatively when they learn about experiences other than their own and begin comparing and contrasting the experiences of different groups. This is a step beyond centering one's own thinking on a single group (typically one's own), but is nonetheless limited.
Relational thinking involves seeing the interrelationships among diverse group experiences. When you think relationally, you see the social structures that simultaneously generate unique group histories and link them together in society. This does not mean that one group's experiences is the same as another's, although finding commonalities is an important step toward more inclusive thinking. In thinking relationally, you untangle the workings of social systems that shape the experiences of different people and groups, and you move beyond just comparing(for example) gender oppression with race oppression, or the oppression of gays and lesbians with that of racial groups.
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Andersen, Margaret L. and Patricia Hill Collins, eds. Race, Class, and Gender: An Anthology, 3rd edition. Wadsworth Publishing Company, 1997.
Andersen, Margaret L., Thinking About Women: Sociological Perspectives on Sex and Gender, 3rd edition. Macmillian Publishing Company, 1993.