Categories of difference in science and policy: Reflections on academic practices, conceptualizations and knowledge production

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Categories of difference have a crucial position in academic research as well as policymaking.
They serve to distinguish and differentiate between groups in society. They can appear in the shape of crude dichotomies or in complex and sophisticated forms resting on constructivist and
intersectionalist perspectives. Nevertheless, using categories of difference also creates something into existence and there may be implications through the particular application of specific categories. This article reflects on how categories of difference are constructed and employed in research, legislation and policy discourse. By looking at different approaches used by qualitative and quantitative researchers, as well as at how specific concepts enter policy-making and legislation, I want to address a number of questions about how we as researchers understand and work with categories of differences. The article will mainly consist of a theoretical discussion, but will use two main empirical examples of race and religion. The article aims to provide tentative answers about what the consequences of particular uses of categories and concepts could be.
TidsskriftQualitative Studies
Udgave nummer2
Sider (fra-til)78-96
Antal sider21
StatusUdgivet - 2012


  • categories of difference; methodological challenges in qualitative and quantitative studies; enumeration; reflexive sociology; policy-making; race studies; studies of religion