Intersectionality and Educational Leadership: A Critical Review

Document Type


Publication Date


Digital Object Identifier (DOI)



In this review of research, we explore intersectionality in the literature on K–12 educational leadership. We seek to understand how researchers have used intersectionality and what their findings or arguments reveal about the work of leading to reduce inequities in education. We ask, What traditions and trends associated with intersectionality have been brought into educational leadership research to inform the development of transformative leadership? The sample includes 15 articles published in peer-reviewed journals between 2005 and 2017. We identify the themes individualism and knowledge relations, which leads us to three interrelated findings concerning conceptions of leadership and intersectionality. We find that intersectionality primarily (1) is used to support micro-level analysis rather than both micro-level and macro-level analysis of the inequities being confronted by leadership practice, (2) is used to focus on individuals’ experiences as “leaders” and “leadership” capacity rather than “leading” practices, and (3) serves as an emergent knowledge project in its support of agendas related to transformative educational leadership. We discuss how the use of intersectionality, conceptions of leadership, and leadership and research practices coincide, pointing to the implications for the continued use of intersectionality in educational leadership, and provide recommendations to support the use of intersectionality in future research.

In educational leadership research, various approaches to scholarship are being advanced to help expose and explain the complexity of social injustice and transform education accordingly (Capper, 1989; Horsford, 2012; Quantz, Rogers, & Dantley, 1991). Examples of such approaches include critical race theory (CRT; Capper, 2015), feminist theory (Blackmore, 2013), critical spirituality (Dantley, 2010), and multiculturalism (Santamaría & Santamaría, 2013). This critical review of literature drew from the common theme across these approaches, leading social transformation toward social justice, to focus on transformative educational leadership.

The purpose of this review was to understand the use of intersectionality by researchers studying educational leadership and related inequities. The guiding questions were the following: (1) How is intersectionality used in relation to leadership and intervening in inequities in education? (2) How is leadership conceptualized when intersectionality is used? In the next paragraph, we will introduce theoretical conceptions of leadership in the field of educational leadership and describe the recent turn to a transformative leadership. Then we provide some historical background on intersectionality to expose traditions and tensions that are important for those who seek to use it at this point in the trajectory of its development.

Was this content written or created while at USF?


Citation / Publisher Attribution

Review of Research in Education, v. 42, issue 1, p. 255-285