The Dark Side of
the Force: One Hundred Years of the Sociology of Race
What was the racial
scene at the time of the American Sociological
Society's founding in 1905? How race-conscious and racially organized
world the founding "fathers" saw at that moment? How racialized were
US social ties and identities, and those of the 1905 intellectual
broadly conceived? On a general level these questions answer
course race was present, as present (at least) as it is today in US
life and social structure. Race has always been present, indeed
since the earliest moments of modernity.
But what race meant in 1905 is less
certain. How has that meaning changed,
how has it developed, and how has it been challenged as it came down to
present day? To what extent has sociology influenced general
race, and to what extent has the field itself been shaped by racial
and racial conflicts? These questions require our consideration; they
subject of this essay.
As a sociohistorical
concept race connects to numerous familiar themes:
the body and its social meaning, territoriality, (in)equality,
identity/difference, collectivity and politicization. But this has not
been the case. One hundred years ago the physiognomic, corporeal
race was the dominant theme in nascent sociological thought. Although
alternative view was beginning to take shape -- one that conceived of
difference as largely sociocultural -- the idea of race as a political
phenomenon, a matter of movement activity and policy formation, went
unheard in 1905. Race was not viewed as a political issue except by
of the disciplinary consensus like W.E.B. Du Bois.
At the turn of the
20th century biologistic views of race were in
command. Evolutionism had taken over. "Race-war" was a source of
anxiety to early sociologists: race was about migration and fertility,
"breeding," and human genetics as it was then understood. It was
also about development, though this too was conceived in a biological
and colonialism were comprehended and justified (in Europe most
elsewhere as well) as the logical outcomes of racial differences among
world's peoples. Non-Europeans, seen as backward and uncivilized, were
to need and benefit from the uplifting forces of colonial rule.
In the US it was
seen as "natural" that the black South and
Native American peoples would be subdued by the "more advanced" white
races. The Plessy decision had
recently been handed down (in 1896). What we would
Òethnic cleansingÓ of indigenous people (seen most
centrally in the 1887 Dawes
Act) had been completed; it was widely supported as
supposedly backward and savage nations (or tribes). Tensions on the
border were merely ÒnormalÓ in 1905, but would soon
intensify with the
revolutionÕs onset in 1910; the border states and Southwest were
anti-Mexican racism (Almaguer 1994). The restriction of Asian
Chinese Exclusion Act was reenacted in 1904; the
ÒGentlemanÕs AgreementÓ with
Japan would be concluded in 1907) was considered "natural" as well,
for Asians were viewed as unassimilable aliens in America: their
masse so threatening (especially to labor) that their widespread influx
not be tolerated.
On the other hand a
new imperial age was dawning: the "little
brown people" (as McKinley called them) of the
Puerto Rico, and Cuba were now ripe for US colonization. This too was
"natural," a patent continuation of the expansionism of the 19th
century. Not only would the US prosper from heightened control of the
Caribbean, the isthmus of Panama, and the Pacific rim, but the areas
subjected would gain as well: they would be civilized and Christianized
In 1905 race was as
much a global issue as it was a US one. Colonial
resources and labor fed, clothed, and housed the imperial countries
exploited their riches. In the Congo King Leopold's massacres continued
unimpeded, a fact reported in detail by Robert E. Park (not yet
the University of Chicago) and by George Washington Williams, another
pioneering journalist/sociologist of race (Hochschild 1998).
ÒSemper novi quid
ex Africa!Ó Du Bois repeated in his analysis of ÒThe
African Roots of the WarÓ
(1995 ). Imperial rivalries shaped international relations, an
which the US was a newcomer, albeit a formidable one. On the Russian
Japanese defeated the Czar in the Pacific in 1905, and the first
revolution erupted that same year; it featured strikes, mutinies (on
the Potemkin and elsewhere), and
troops shooting down unarmed demonstrators in the streets of St.
Petersburg. These events all had
These were but some
of the main events that shaped the sociopolitical
context in which the founding sociologists were working. Although they
necessarily subject to the Òcommon-senseÓ prevailing at
the field's founding
moments, they were far from wholly subservient to it. To some of the
Òfounding fathersÓ like Sumner and Giddings race was a
matter of human
biological nature, instinctual, Òhardwired.Ó It was an
intractable matter, a
question of evolution, not sociality. But other leading sociologists
Albion Small -- the founding editor of the American Journal of
Ð had published critical appraisals of what we would now call
before the American Sociological SocietyÕs founding in 1905. In
assessment of the 20th-century sociology of race, Thomas
noted that Òcritical work is in the minority throughoutÓ
the whole arc of
mainstream sociological writing on the subject (Pettigrew 1980, xxv).
challenges to the received wisdom were still present from the first in
publications as the AJS. These critical reappraisals of the
racial wisdom included contributions by such vital figures as W.I.
Charlotte Perkins Gilman, W.E.B. Du Bois, Monroe Work, and various
associated with Jane Addams and ChicagoÕs Hull
2002). Still, in 1905 and for a long time thereafter, the sociology of
took shape almost exclusively as a conversation among whites, even
required the marginalization of W.E.B. Du Bois, who was not only the
the field in its modern, empirical, and theoretically sophisticated
also arguably the founder of modern American sociology tout court. 
The origins of American sociology considerably predate the founding of the American Sociological Society in 1905. Just as in Europe the field developed to interpret onrushing social change, so too sociology arose in the US: in response to pressing demand for new social knowledge. In France sociology was invented during the era of Comte and de Tocqueville as a "positive science of society," a tool to explain industrialization, the downfall of absolutism, and colonial war. In the US sociology arose in response to racial upheaval and the crisis of the slave system. The onset and intensification of US convulsions over racial slavery roughly paralleled the European transition from absolutism to democratic rule, as well as the trajectory of industrialization. The Civil War was among other things a semi-revolutionary battle to overthrow absolutism in its American incarnation, as Du Bois argued (see below). So it should come as no surprise that in the US the nascent field found in the racial problematic some of its earliest and most foundational explanatory tasks.
In 1873 Herbert
Spencer's The Study of Sociology crossed the
Atlantic to the US. Spencer, a contemporary of Darwin, asserted that a racial
was crucial to human evolution, thus joining a long list of taxonomists
preoccupation was the racial ranking of human groups. SpencerÕs
crucial in launching US academic sociology; the title of Spencer's
first book (Social
Statics), was a phrase he had borrowed from Comte.
But even Spencer's
was not the first sociological voice to make itself
heard. In the US the sociology of race had predated the arrival of
ideas. Societal transformations that commenced with the rise of
continued through the Civil War and its horrors, and were perpetuated
partial emancipation and then virtual reenslavement of southern Blacks,
provided the earliest demand in the US for something called
"sociology." The first avowed US sociologists anteceded the American
Sociological Society's debut by more than half a century; they were
or apologists for slavery, intellectuals like Henry Hughes (Hughes
also Lyman 1985; Fredrickson 1971), George Fitzhugh, as well as critics
institution like Hinton Rowan Helper (Wish, ed. 1960). HughesÕs
1854 tract --
pro-slavery, agrarian, anti-industrialist, and at its core romantic --
was the first
to use the term ÒsociologyÓ in the US. When Du Bois in
1935 interpreted the
Civil War as the second stage of the American revolution, the
completion of the
transition from absolutism to democracy in the United States, he was
the political sociology of slavery and abolition to that of European
the industrial revolution.
So there were direct
lines connecting early US sociology to racial
matters. The ranks of both advocates and critics of racial slavery
self-described sociologists, because -- as in Europe -- the process of
socioeconomic development and the ferocious conflicts it generated
explanation, both at the elite and mass levels. Racial conflict played
parallel role -- that of generating a "great transformation" (pace Polanyi) in the US
-- to the one
played by the downfall of absolutism and onset of capitalism in Europe.
slavery and native conquest and slaughter displayed an absolutism all
own, of course. But beyond that the rise of capitalism also followed an
expropriative policy toward lives and labor and land -- some of
"fictitious commodities" (2001 ) --
in the US. Du Bois saw a resemblance here with that of Marx's
accumulation," and indeed so did Marx. In the US
was greatly shaped by race, since substantial conflict and confusion
the race/class distinction there. For example, building on Du Bois,
examines the paradoxical identities of white workers in the antebellum
they "freemen" or "servants"? Since the category of
"servant" described enslaved blacks, white men resisted it. Especially
in the Jeffersonian, southern tradition where whiteness conferred
the status of "master" -- i.e., self-possessing, "yeoman,"
property-owning, citizen -- no honorable white male could have a master
him; no white could be a servant. Yet propertlyess whites could not
sort of US "enclosure" in the developing capitalist system: this was
the making of the American working class, so to speak. Only by
racial distinctions -- through which becoming a worker meant joining
of masters, the white men -- could the opprobrium of enslavement be
So what constitutes
the sociology of race anyway? No positivisms of any
type will allow us to answer this question, any more than old
accounts or travestied applications of Darwinian concepts would do. To grasp the
sociologies of race (and "racial
studies" more broadly understood as well) proposed over the last
and down to the present is to understand the field genealogically. Here I survey the
the sociology of race over the last hundred years by means of a
the rise and fall of four racial paradigms within the field: the biologistic
the pragmatist paradigm, the structural-functionalist/civil
and the social movement v. neoconservative paradigm.
ÒmomentsÓ or episodes in the recent history of the field
deeply linked to broader sociopolitical trends. In this account the
sociology of race is seen as a series of competing and episodic efforts
contain political conflict over race and to foment it.
Politically the field
may be divided, like Gaul, in three parts:
mainstream, insurgent, and reactionary. Broadly speaking, mainstream sociological
approaches to race
have sought to explain and help contain upsurges in the ongoing racial
conflicts that characterize US society; insurgent approaches have
explain those challenges in order to advance them; reactionary sociologies of race
have tried to
explain these challenges in order to reverse them. When threats and
disruptions affecting society-wide -- and disciplinary --
understandings of the
meaning of race have grown too formidable, too dangerous to ignore, the
of sociology has been forced to respond. When race riots,
mobilizations, and race-related opposition to established political
have confronted the US status quo too fiercely, sociological research
subject of race has ramped up. Continuing racial inequalities have been
explanatory accounts developed, and policy reforms advocated. That has
mutatis mutandis, the mainstream sociological approach to race.
of race arise
from time to time in alliance with these same challenges: radical,
and egalitarian voices have repeatedly made themselves heard, most
the post-WWII period. The field's allegiances and commitments are
called into question by insurgent positions within it. Racial
often linked to global tensions, to parallel political issues like
gender conflict, and to crises of American identity and purpose. In the
post-WWII era, for example, racial crisis intersected with Cold War
anticolonial and antiwar movements, the rise of
Òsecond-waveÓ feminism, and an
intense period of soul-searching over national identity and public
approaches to race are also common responses to racial
conflict. Intellectual tendencies considered dead and buried have a
resurfacing in respect to race. For example, biologistic accounts and
religious explanations of racial difference and inequality, as well as
to racial nationalism and nativism, have frequently re-emerged at times
heightened racial conflict. These positions also exhibit global
affinities with parallel political universes: in the heyday of eugenics
biologistic racism spanned the globe; the rise of fascism and its easy
articulation with traditional US white supremacy is another familiar
racial reaction, homophobia, anti-feminism, and anti-communism go
nicely as well. In the sociology of race these positions typically take
form of condemnation of government interventionism and celebration of
laissez-faire (Òbenign neglect,Ó etc.), calls for more
enforcement, and victim-blaming.
Race has always been
a deeply political subject, whether or not it was
recognized as such in sociology. Hence mainstream writers, radical
egalitarians, and reactionaries have time and again deployed all the
theoretical and empirical resources they could muster in their efforts
reformulate the enigma of race in US society. But for all the
racial politics, sociological approaches to race have been driven by
influences as well: our own rationalistic impulses, our hunger for
status, and our sense of political and moral obligation have forced us
continually to reinvent the sociology of race, in the process recurring
ideas that had been thought discredited, and returning to refight old
once again. As much as the movements, identities, and social
studied within the field of sociology, the discipline itself has
been a zone of contention.
So the field of
sociology is necessarily part of the problem it is
trying to explain. The sociology of race has been severely criticized
"failure of perspective," as two well-known books on the subject were
subtitled (Lyman 1972; McKee 1993). The field has also been seen as
progressing, however unevenly, away from its own racism and toward a
scientific as well as tendentially more egalitarian perspective
1980). Spokespersons for the
discipline of sociology have frequently sought to foster racial
reformism in US
society at large: in this regard just consider the names of various
"schools of thought" about race: assimilationism, pluralism, race
relations, multiculturalism. Yet reformism is better understood as
incorporation and absorption of conflict than as conflict resolution.
the meaning of GramsciÕs term Òhegemony.Ó
vantage-point of a centuryÕs intellectual experience, we can
see that each of these three politically-oriented
ÒperspectivesÓ Ð- the
mainstream, insurgent, and reactionary approaches -- has proved
the face of a set of racial conditions (not problems but fundamental
structures) endemic not only to the US but to the Òmodern
world-systemÓ as a
In the roughly
diachronic account that follows, I address the
conditions in which studies have been carried out and theories
the sociology of race. No attempt is made systematically to consider
literature; that would be impossible anyway in this space. Rather I
sort of periodized conceptual history, a genealogy, of the sociology of
my approach on the claim that social thought is "demand-driven," I
begin by discussing the biologistic paradigm: the theoretical
research frameworks on view in the early sociology of race. From that
forward, I make bold to say, the field has gone through a series of
sequence of periodic re-formulations and re-searches, reiteratively
make sense of race. At each crisis-point the contradiction between the
dominant sociological paradigm of race and the larger explanatory
paradigm was required to perform became too great, too explosive. Under
conditions the field retreated into a confused interregnum of sorts
while a new
paradigm was framed, usually on the basis of the radical criticisms
subsisted at the margins of the discipline before the paradigmatic
struck with full force. Sometimes too, reactionary critics have been
intervene in the field, forcing a sociological Òretreat from
raceÓ when the
going got too rough.
crisis-points, critical standpoints have developed in
semi-independence. This claim is particularly true of insurgent
but applies as well to reactionary views. Under ÒnormalÓ
conditions in the
discipline, the mainstream paradigm rules; while contending views may
marginalized they are not entirely in abeyance. Critics are concerned
sociopolitical anomalies beneath the racial radar of the sociological biens
pensants of the
day. When crises occur and a moment of paradigm shift approaches --
often not a moment at all but a more gradual breakdown in established
sociological Òways of seeingÓ race -- these alternative
viewpoints are in
position to exercise their greatest influence.
What forces shape the
sociology of race? What impels crisis,
insurgency, reform and consolidation? I have already noted a rough
correspondence between conflict over race and the field of
to address the broad societal demand for explanations. But clearly
more problematic has been at stake in the US where race was concerned,
the entire course of the past century the field has moved only
incrementally toward a recognition of the breadth and depth of the US
mention the global) racial problematic. Deep social crises and
societal upheavals have been required to demonstrate that sociological
attitudes toward race could be altered, even incrementally. Not unlike
society as a whole, the field has maintained a default position of
race, operating in what may be characterized the Òas
As if American democracy
sharply called into question by US racial conditions;
As if the US rise to global
power did not
have significant racial dimensions;
As if the founding
scenarios of US
society Ð conquest, settlement, slavery, and immigration Ð were
As if those themes were
relegated to the past, not constitutive of periodic social upheavals,
both in a
larger political sense, and in terms of the fieldÕs attempts to
By recognizing the
presence of this ÒdefaultÓ mode, we can better
understand the seemingly small shifts the sociology of race has
as previous conceptions have been cast aside. These revisions have by
large been brought about by the actions of the racial
helped along by their representatives and allies within the field
is this combination of periodic rejection of the dominant sociological
by those whom it purportedly describes, and the efforts of sociologists
themselves to make sense of the new situation, to craft a new and more
effective account of race, that I describe as Òthe dark side of
As the field was
organizationally consolidated (roughly from the turn
of the 20th century until the 1920s) it was dominated by the biologistic
affinities were social Darwinist and eugenicist. The initial
the biological account of race was largely residual. A long meditation
meaning of racial identity and difference had accompanied and indeed
modern intellectual life from the Enlightenment to the dawning 20th
century. This body of thought was preoccupied with the
ÒnatureÓ of race:
corporeal form, intellectual capacity, and physical beauty were among
themes; these were all characteristics deemed to be intrinsic and
intractable. German idealists, English empiricists, French philosophes, and US founding
fathers such as
Jefferson and Franklin all expatiated at length on these matters. As
sciences developed in the 19th century, race was
a fashion) through such methods as cranial capacity measurement and
(Gould 1981; Gilman 1985; Mosse 1978). European authorities like
Broca continued to exercise influence over early 20th-century
sociologists of race. Indeed, LapougeÕs ÒOld and New
Aspects of the Aryan
QuestionÓ appeared in the AJS in 1899, in some respects
into American sociology at the fin de siecle, and foreshadowing
between eugenics and fascism.
James McKee writes
Throughout the first
decade of the
[20th] century, race still fell within evolutionary theory
vocabulary of race reflected that: [American] Journal [of
articles spoke of civilization and savagery, of advanced and backward
races. ÒCivilizationÓ defined the highest stage within
social evolution; the lesser
stages of development were Òbarbarian Ò and
Òsavage,Ó and people of African
origin were declared to have come from a savage culture (McKee 1993,
Òcommon-senseÓ evolutionism, but it intersected well with
the social Darwinism
and eugenicism that constituted racial science in this epoch. At the
the century eugenics was nearing the height of its influence. Although biologistic
theories about race long predated 19th-century
science, they acquired new credibility with the ascent of evolutionary
after Darwin. The term ÒeugenicsÓ was coined by
DarwinÕs cousin Francis
Galton with his 1869 book Hereditary Genius. The evolutionist
to race was also supercharged by the claims of Spencer regarding the
significance of racial instinct, and the social Darwinism of Sumner
others. Further influences proceeded from the everyday debates of the
Eugenics offered a
seemingly far more objective, quantitatively
sophisticated methodology for the study of racial matters than had
been available in the social sciences. Indeed it is to eugenics that we
the introduction into sociology of inferential statistics, calculus,
concept of regression to the mean (Marks 1995; Zuberi 2001; Kevles
1985). Eugenics deeply influenced all the social sciences; it was
embraced not only by
mainstream psychologists, historians, anthropologists, and other
also by many feminists and socialists who saw in it a rationality and
commitment to science that contrasted with the residual superstition of
ways of thinking about population, sex, and such social problems as
public health, housing, and especially crime and deviance (Rafter
In the US eugenicist
thought was most centrally applied to issues of
immigration, but also operated in debates about poverty and race. How
US to deal with the hordes of immigrants arriving around the
from racially ÒotherÓ areas of the world -- Jews, Greeks,
Italians, and Slavs,
not to mention Asians: in effect all the worldÕs
non-English-speaking, non-Protestant, huddled masses? How were blacks, now
and citizens (at least in theory), to be regarded? There were strong
affinities between eugenics-based viewpoints and American nativism, as
were between eugenics and anti-black views.
The 1916 publication
and wide circulation of Madison GrantÕs The Passing of the
signified a general trend toward immigrant exclusion on the grounds of
ÒnaturalÓ racial hierarchy. William Graham
Darwinism probably best exemplified this trend (Sumner 1963). Edward A.
RossÕs work (1914; 1920, 59-70), though more nativist than
also reflected some of these biologistic presumptions. A host of early
writings and debates treated race as a ÒnaturalÓ
understandings of the sociology of race were competing with
cultural ones by the 1910s. In part this was an outcome of the
sociology being produced by black writers and researchers at this time.
BoisÕs voice reached social scientific readers (albeit only
both through publication in the AJS and in the Annals of
Academy of Social and Political Science. His The Philadelphia
was published in 1899: this was an entirely pathbreaking work that
urban and labor sociology, studies of what we would now call social
stratification, criminology, the sociology of religion, and historical
political sociology as well. The bookÕs formidable empirical
outstripped anything else written during that epoch, and anticipated
urban studies by two decades or more. But it received little attention. The Souls of Black
Folk (1903) did better, selling
particularly to black readers; some sections of the book had appeared
previously as articles in The Atlantic and elsewhere.
An early pragmatist
as well as racial radical, Du Bois had become a
sociology professor at Atlanta University in 1897, while still working
Philadelphia Negro. He remained at Atlanta until 1910, producing
help of students and associates a steady stream of empirical studies on
institutions (religious, educational, economic, etc.), on the social
of black folk, particularly in the South, and on US racial dynamics.
not without flaws and constantly limited by inadequate resource
the Atlanta studies remained the most empirically detailed and
sociological analyses of racial conditions available in the US until
in the South of ParkÕs black Chicago graduates (notably Charles
S. Johnson) in the late 1920s and
During this period as
well there was a significant growth in
sociological activity at black colleges and universities. To list only
a few of
these developments: at the Hampton Institute the Negro Conference was
under the leadership of Thomas Jesse Jones, where it continued for two
decades. Hampton was also the institutional base for the research
Southern Workman, which from 1903 to 1935 published empirical
paralleled Du BoisÕs Atlanta University studies. At Howard
mathematician Kelly Miller established the Sociology department in 1895
taught there for forty years; the Howard department came to include
crucial black sociologists as E. Franklin Frazier and Alain Leroy Locke.
Racial biologism was
confronted during and after WWI by a range of
phenomena it could not readily explain: most centrally the newly
agency of racially-defined minorities, whose widespread urbanization,
incorporation into the industrial working class, and incipient
mobilization clearly exceeded the logic of the old paradigm. This was
of the Harlem Renaissance, the Garvey movement, and The Crisis.
As a result a Òcultural
turnÓ began to take hold in the
sociology of race. The culturalist trend appealed to many mainstream
sociologists disaffected with social Darwinist and Spencerian
dismayed by the intractability the biologistic paradigm assigned to
racial themes and race itself now began to be recognized as
Òsocial problems.Ó Initial challenges to biologism were
timid, merely replacing its overtly
"natural" framework with one based on concepts of cultural backwardness
and disadvantage. These were handicaps, matters that could be
only gradually, over many generations.
Early tendencies in
were evinced in the work of Franklin Giddings and Howard Odum. Giddings
been active in shifting the biologistic racial paradigm towards issues
instinct, proposing a racial theory based on the concept of
of kind." A quantitatively oriented, postivistically-inclined thinker
committed evolutionist, Giddings became the first professor of
Columbia (in 1894). He grounded his sociology of race in a four-stage
philosophical anthropology, of which only the final stage (the
"demogenic") was seen as fully civilized. Many human
"types" had not yet attained this stage; indeed Giddings saw
evolutionary differences as besetting society even in its most modern
configurations, and necessarily generating inequalities of various
types. Giddings's notions of instinct had a strong commonsensical
quality; they may
still be observed today in popular explanations about such matters as
segregation ("like cleaves to like," etc.) and in laments about the
so-called "self-segregation" phenomenon among racially-defined
The shift from
accounts based in
supposedly inherent biological characteristics to theories grounded in
of instinct was not only symptomatic of a declining biologism, but also
signified the expanding explanatory ambition of the field. Here was an
appearance of a social concept of race, though obviously the sociality
instinct-based theory could recognize was still limited. Instinct
nearly natural concept; it still signified something intrinsic and
unalterable. But there was a shift here too: that something could be
by social patterns and structures that gave rise to it over time:
"folkways" for example.
recognition of the
sociality of race is visible in the work of Howard Odum, who suggested
black isolation from the dominant (i.e. white) culture was profound
to forestall "civilizing" influences and to preserve uniquely black
(but also implicitly backward) cultural characteristics. Odum's Social
Mental Traits of the Negro (1910) was originally a dissertation
Giddings. His later work on southern black music and folk tales
chronicled the complexities of African American life in the
Òblack beltÓ and
documented its isolation. A committed social reformer and sometimes
white racial "moderate" in the segregationist South, Odum looked at
black culture with real attention and respect. Yet his preoccupation
traditions tended to reify the racial separatism linked to Jim Crow,
minimize the extent to which an oppositional black modernity was
the US -- and in the South -- in the early decades of the 20th century.
we can find in Odum's work foreshadowings and hints both of the
development" arguments of black nationalism and of the "culture of
poverty" arguments that would stress black "disadvantage" as an
explanation for inequality in the 1960s. His cultural sociology of race
able to retain a good deal of the old framework of racial hierarchy
earlier been a mainstay of the biologistic paradigm, while dispensing
of the overt racism inherent there.
In fact Giddings,
Odum et al were
by no means devoid of a paternalistic racism of their own. The very
designation of African American relationships and institutions as
implicitly premodern and sociohistorically retarded -- depreciated and
dismissed the black (and indigenous, and colonized, and immigrant)
the modern world. These leading (and most other following) scholars
blithely ignorant of black political activity as well as black
research and analysis. Nor did they generally understand "other
others" -- Asians, Latin Americans, indigenous people, Arabs, and so on
as capable of self-activity, collective or organized, in civil society.
Needless to say, conflict over inequality, political and civil rights,
meaning of race did not preoccupy this viewpoint.
During the 1910s and
over race and culture expanded significantly throughout the social
these debates deeply affected sociological thought on race. Three
developments that must be noted, necessarily far too briefly in this
advent of Boasian cultural anthropology as a challenge to the physical
anthropology that then dominated the field; the development of IQ
psychology under Lewis Terman, a process that was first linked closely
eugenicism and the Òfeeble-minded," and then later adopted its
version of culturalism in the quest for an ÒobjectiveÓ
measure of intelligence;
and the seemingly definitive vindication of slavery in American
history with the publication of Ulrich PhillipsÕs American
Franz Boas's work was
all to the claim that cultural variation among distinct peoples could
ranked hierarchically or classified along a scale that ran from
savagery. Boas sought both to counter nativist and eugenicist positions
public sphere, and to rethink cultural anthropology so as to surpass
such positions. He bequeathed a remarkable anti-racist, though of
course somewhat uneven,
legacy. His contributions were based upon decades of work at Columbia
through the American Museum of Natural History, where he had to coexist
contend) with various eugenicist stalwarts, politicians, and trustees.
anti-racist annals of American social science, Boas's contribution is
only by that of Du Bois. He trained dozens of influential
(among them Hurston, Freyre, Benedict, and Herskovitz), and deeply
the field in the US.
developed by Binet in France during the 1890s, was employed by
Lewis Terman to sort military recruits during WWI. Terman, along with
other early influential psychologists as Robert Yerkes and Carl
racial difference (by which was meant southern and eastern European
well as US blacks) to differences in ÒIQ,Ó thus
arguments. Justice Holmes invoked this racial "science" as late as
1927 in the Buck v. Bell case, to justify an
order of coercive sterilization of a
Òfeeble-mindedÓ white girl from the rural South. Later,
in the face of
concerted arguments from such prestigious figures as Walter Lippman,
collaborated with anthropologist Alfred Kroeber to design IQ tests that
supposedly Òculturally neutral.Ó Debates over "hereditary
(that is, intelligence) resurface steadily, most recently in the
sparked by Herrnstein and Murray's The Bell Curve (1994), a
focused on putative differences in intelligence and their supposed
account of slavery as a
benevolent institution caring for uncivilized and culturally backward
and of the South as falling prey to merciless and money-grubbing
capitalists and carpetbaggers who invaded under the cover of
summarized and justified the cause of southern irredentism on a
national scale. The romance of the noble "lost cause" achieved a degree
acceptance (among whites at least) that has still not been entirely
despite Du BoisÕs masterpiece of refutation Black
Reconstruction in America (1935)
and a flood of revisionist historical studies of slavery that were
during and after the 1960s. The "invaders" were shown by Du Bois to
have included numerous black and white schoolteachers (many of them
Methodist women), thousands of northern blacks who saw themselves as
from exile to minister to a homeland devastated by war and suffering,
Radical Republicans intent on fostering land reform and political
and not incidentally a great many ex-slaves who had emancipated
themselves through resistance
armed) during the course of the Civil War. This alternative viewpoint
Reconstruction remained unnoticed, despite the efforts of Du Bois et
the 1960s; it was swept away by Birth of a Nation and the
irredentist accounts, both academic and popular, that flooded the
imagination and the academic marketplace, especially after Phillips's
debates about race
in the first few decades of the century focused their attention --
great variation in their political orientations and commitments to
(in)equality -- on the issue of cultural variation across racial
categories. All displayed a diminishing commitment to the biologistic
model of racial
difference. This culturalist approach to race acquired ever-greater
sociology during the 1920s, notably in the work of Edward Reuter. An
population specialist and lifelong race theorist, Reuter's positions
to a considerable extent with the emerging perspective of Robert Ezra
his group of students and associates at the University of Chicago. Reuter emphasized "culture contact"
race-mixing as dynamic processes that shifted the social dimensions of
"the American race problem" over time. He situated US racial patterns
in a global context, influencing Park (his work The Mulatto in the
States  was his dissertation, directed by Park). 
developing the sociology of race can scarcely be exaggerated; he is
by few figures besides Du Bois. Notably, he only slowly detached his
from a belief in
Òracial typesÓ (a quintessentially culturalist viewpoint)
and from the highly
deterministic Òrace-relations cycleÓ he had charted while
supervising a field
research projectin Hawaii. Still ParkÕs
humanistic and personal
anti-racism contrasted sharply with most of his contemporaries. His
journalistic work had put him directly in touch with southern black
the horrors of imperial rule in Africa. At Chicago his group
their pragmatist approach over the 1920s and 1930s, first by rejecting
biologism for a more sociocultural approach, and then by developing
on the agency and capabilities for collective action inherent in
ethnically-) defined minority
insisted on placing
US racial dynamics in a global and historical context, at first
"culture contact" as Reuter had done, but later situating that theme
in the context of empire-building and colonialism, as well as linking
conflict to nationalism (Park 1950).
ParkÕs work on
race, the city,
empirical methods, and cultural contacts was initiated at roughly the
moment. His students became accustomed to treating the city as a vast
laboratory. Chicago was also the first top-ranked sociology department
admit significant numbers of racial-defined minority graduate students.
leading early black graduate students as Ira De A. Reid and Charles S.
would be followed later in the department by such notables as E.
Frazier and Oliver C. Cox, among others. In some ways reinventing the
pragmatist sociological wheel that Du Bois had constructed in
Atlanta, the Chicago department
and democratized the sociology of race, albeit in uneven ways. Chicago
identified not only with a new racial sociology but with an approach
addressed such matters as urbanism, immigration, and imperialism (the
frontierÓ) with far greater effectiveness than its predecessors.
racial reaction and nativism of the 1920s Ð visible in widespread
rioting, anti-immigrant legislation, deportation of thousands of
consequence of the Palmer raids, and the disgraceful demonstration of
of thousands of KKK members at the Capitol in Washington DC, also
disciplineÕs progressives, for whom Chicago was headquarters.
A renovative approach
immigration also characterized the pragmatist sociology practiced in
during these years. Over three years (1918-1920) Chicago sociologists
Thomas and Florian Znaniecki published their five-volume study The
Peasant in Europe and America, which significantly reconceptualized
sociology of migration. This enormous project
great deal of primary data with an unprecedentedly humanistic account
migration. Although they weren't primarily concerned with race, Thomas
Znaniecki's work still broke new ground by dispensing with the racism
contemporary work on immigration. They theorized their subjects as
agents who comparatively assessed their situations in Central Europe
Chicago, using political, economic, and cultural criteria. This was a
different perspective on the "huddled masses"; Thomas and Znaniecki
should be seen as the founders of today's sophisticated sociology of
In rethinking race
pragmatist tradition, the Chicago ÒSchoolÓ was returning
this uniquely American
philosophical complex to its roots, which lay in abolitionism and the
of Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. (he of Buck v. Bell) and Charles S.
Peirce to the
Civil War and its aftermath. Pragmatism also shaped William
to problems of agency in social psychology and John Dewey's concern
practical problems of fostering and maintaining a democratic public.
2001; Joas 1993; West 1989; Bulmer 1984; Abbott 1999; Feffer 1993). The work at Chicago,
linked on the one hand to this
primary US philosophical tradition, and on the other to American
represented a tremendous infusion of realism and attentiveness into the
But the Chicago
approach to race
also remained limited. ParkÕs aversion to political sociology
on value-free methodology, always a chimera in social scientific
inhibited the effectiveness of Chicago sociology as racial critique.
inequality and injustice were not seen as outcomes or objects of state
but as phenomena of civil society. Lacking a focus on the racial state,
(and to varied extents the Chicago researchers he mentored) argued that
conflict itself would generate egalitarian and inclusive pressures;
the essence of the "race relations cycle" (Lyman 1972, 27-51).
Political alliances with progressive whites, feminists, the labor
even among racially-defined minorities themselves were not considered
this view may have descended from Park's association with Booker T.
Washington. Park's sociology of race also tended to analogize US racial
struggles with the
European national conflicts he had observed during his graduate school
Heidelberg. In his view the European model of "ethnocracy" (Persons
1987, 79-83) paralleled US racial stratification, explaining both
discrimination (whites' defense of their privileged status) and the
pressures of assimilation (blacks and other minorities overcoming the
disadvantages imposed by slavery and exclusion).
Still, Park and his
managed to validate racial conflict as an engine of social change and
essential component of American democracy. They recognized the agency
racially subordinated and oppressed, and indeed understood it as a
nationalism. Their departure from the generally static and structurally
determined sociology of race that Chicago had inherited constituted a
innovation, an important reform in the field. The combination of all
I have just enumerated (and many more factors I cannot examine here,
the centrality of micro-level work at Chicago as developed by Mead and
and modified by Blumer) Ð revitalized the sociology of race in
numerous ways. In particular the ÒSchoolÕsÓ
emphasis on an empirically-driven approach to race
brought new attention to issues of variability, agency, and conflict
racially-defined groups. Work at Chicago at long last incorporated at
some of the insurgent insights pioneered by Du Bois -- long relegated
sociologyÕs margins because of his radicalism as well as his
race -- into the
Chicago sociology attended to race in a far more nuanced, respectful,
democratic way than had its mainstream predecessors. Chicago scholars
to blacks and Asians, trained black researchers, and paid attention to
complex sociohistorical environment in which race operated. However
and tendentially, Park, Thomas, Wirth, Blumer et al broke with the
and the unquestioning white supremacism that had characterized the
By the 1930s the
sociology of race was losing authority. Numerous factors were
the changes underway. A major social-psychological turn in the 1930s,
of quantitatively-oriented survey research,
and most centrally the onset of the Depression reoriented the field's
mainstream, rendering less attractive Chicago's preoccupations with the
immigration, and group conflict/accommodation. On the margins of the
Marxist currents gained influence: here interest in race
even grew, but these approaches centered on labor, inequality, and
general, thus narrowing the scope of racial studies.
sure, the influence of the Chicago "school" remained, helping to
shape at least one more epochal study of the Chicago urban landscape,
Drake and Horace Cayton's Black
Study of Negro Life in a Northern City. This mammoth
study that appeared in 1945 remained very much in the pragmatist
devoting extensive attention to the self-organization of the community
authors named "Bronzeville." With its emphasis on economic life, family
structure and ties to the South, education, housing, etc., Black Metropolis evoked the
only of Park and Wirth's Chicago sociology,
but also of Du Bois's The
Philadelphia Negro, the founding work in American pragmatist
sociology. Black Metropolis
was in many respects the
last hurrah of the Chicago sociology of race.
Chicago sociology had
comprehensive account of race, however imperfect and uneven, especially
concerned the United States. This approach was at once interactional; local/urban/national;
and situated in a global field of population
movement, culture contact, and empire. But at the same time, in good
pragmatist fashion, it was decentered and subject to the interests,
and interventions of the conscious actors it studied. Chicago sociology
relatively non-theoretical, with the exception of those theories we
consider "middle-range": such were Park's "cycle" or
Blumer's symbolic interaction. Chicago's incipient holism, its lack of
fundamental, unifying conceptual frame, and its openness to
opened the way for the structural-functionalist account in the US, at
much as did any importation by Parsons, Shils, and others of Weber and
(the usual reason given for structural-functionalismÕs
STRUCTURAL-FUNCTIONALIST PARADIGM AND THE
CIVIL RIGHTS MOVEMENT
Meanwhile the field's
gravity moved east from Chicago to Columbia and Harvard, where during
and 1950s the structural-functionalist paradigm would attain the
position in sociology. Not only was the pragmatist stress on conflict
agency Ð especially as seen in its Chicago version Ð
incompatible with the
political and cultural unity demanded by wartime conditions, but
proving itself useful to the powers, corporate and
wielded most of
the resources the field needed to operate, first in depression, then in
wartime, and then in the "twilight struggle" of the Cold War. The
New Deal-sponsored work on labor conditions and cultural matters that
shaped sociology in the 1930s gave way to wartime government research:
to planning, military recruitment, and shifting demographics and
rise with the onset of World War II also seemed to surpass Chicago's
approach to race. Whereas the US sociology (including the then leading
department) had been roiled by conflict over the US entry into the WWI
WWII inspired no such discontent or criticism in the field. Like every
profession, the field of sociology harnessed itself to the war effort,
enterprise that (after Pearl Harbor, anyway) encompassed left and
and poor, white and black. With their focus on social integration
structural-functionalism's chief architects aspired to a disciplinary
never before achieved.  They tended to
ignore or dismiss radical tendencies (Marxism most
assiduously sought to incorporate a wide range of social conflicts in
effort at systematization.
Race relations (no
understood as racial "conflict") was no exception. The
structural-functionalist approach was notable for its racial
and integrationism. The Chicago sociology of race had viewed
more properly, assimilation) as the end-stage of a prolonged process of
conflict and accommodation whose realization in the US remained a long
way off. Chicago's successors in Cambridge and Morningside Heights were
more sanguine about racial progress. This may be explained, not only by
appearance of highly influential new work (notably the Myrdal study;
below), but also by the shifting experience of race relations,
the 1940s. An increase in racial solidarity (in the Durkheimian sense)
accompanied the War, and achieved some theoretical function, so to
least in early structural-functionalist thought. Well into the 1960s
approach seemed to inform and support the post-WWII civil rights
structural-functionalism may be characterized as the paradigmatic
of the civil rights movement in the sociology of race. The chief
structural-functionalism -- Parsons, Merton, and Robin Williams
among others --
wrote extensively and effectively about race, analyzing prejudice and
Racially, the War
sector of society, finally bringing an end to the Depression. The War
racially-defined minorities with industrial employment, entry into the
services, and a degree of social inclusion they had previously lacked.
fomented black, Mexican, and Puerto Rican migration from the
plantations of Dixie (and Texas, and Arizona, and Ponce) to the
North, the Midwest, and the developing West. It diminished the poverty
suffering of the depression years, and tendentially narrowed the gaps
tensions that had previously divided racially-defined groups. Not that
War was an all-out effort for racial inclusion and equality; in
practice it was
a more contradictory affair, racially speaking, for the US. The
was democratic, tolerant, and inclusive; the Pacific war was rife with
toward the "Japs." This racism was imported into the domestic milieu
by a ferocious bigotry, which culminated in the notorious 1942
9066 and its internment of US Japanese-Americans.
comparable outrage was committed against German- or Italian-Americans,
there were more than a few detentions in
communities as well.
framework generally stressed the unifying role of culture, and
American values, in regulating and resolving conflicts. This approach
notably in evidence in respect to the sociology of race. It converged
argument of the Myrdal study, An American Dilemma, which
1944. I use the verb "converged" because it is difficult to say that
the work of Myrdal, a Swedish parliamentarian and social democrat as
well as a
social scientist, was greatly influenced by that of Parsons et al. More
the reverse -- Parsons was a racial liberal and Merton had been
civil rights activity in his undergraduate days -- but in any case
consensual political climate of the war years provided an appropriate
for calls for racial reform. This was a point Myrdal made clear in his
concluding pages, pointing out the inconsistencies and contradictions
in a racially exclusionary and discriminatory society's leading a war
Myrdal's book was
single most influential work ever published in the sociology of race.
central thesis about the discrepancy between racial injustice and
creedÓ was deeply linked to mainstream liberalism, racial
gradualism and the
ideal of racial assimilation. The product of an enormous group effort
a great many sociologists were involved,
An American Dilemma
also reflected its author's extensive observations and inquiries in
social settings, much of which was undertaken with the aid and guidance
political scientist and neo-Marxist (as well as future diplomat and
laureate) Ralph Bunche. Myrdal's sympathy with American blacks and vast
documentation of the injustices visited upon them did not result,
however, in a
denunciation of US racism, perhaps because he resolutely sought to
American "mainstream," perhaps because he undertook his project under
the shadow of WWII, which despite all its limits and illusions he still
properly understood as a struggle for democracy, and perhaps because
patrons at the Carnegie Foundation and elsewhere would not have
radical a critique, especially in wartime (Jackson 1990; Southern 1987;
Stanfield 1985). So, rather than presenting his "dilemma" as
something endemic and foundational in US society and culture, he framed
(a word he did not use) as an aberration, a retardation and obstacle
the higher virtues of US democracy. He combined this account with a
faith in progress over the historical medium- to long-term: the theory
"cumulative and cyclical development" that he was later to apply to
the global problem of economic development (Myrdal 1963). He also
assimilation as an unproblematic objective of racial reform, a position
surely differed with the views of many of his black informants. In short Myrdal's
devotion to the cause of racial reform -- the
product of many determinations and influences -- drove his project at
fundamental level. This treatment resonated very deeply with the
major sociological study that tackled race issues at this time was
Stouffer et al's The
American Soldier. Research for this project was initiated in 1941
Department/Department of Defense support; it was published in 1949-1950
(Stouffer et al 1949-1950; see also Merton and Lazersfeld 1950).
al devoted significant attention to racial attitudes in the wartime
and to the experiences of the over one million black members of the US
explicit examination of the tensions of racial segregation and the
for racial progress that characterized the wartime armed forces, The
Soldier strongly paralleled the Myrdal study, which had preceded it
five years. In Stouffer et al's interviews, white soldiers continued to
express their Negrophobia, while blacks articulated their expectations
they had in WWI -- that their sacrifices in wartime would be recognized
rewarded later. Stouffer et al suggested
War reduced the degree of white racism. While not a vacuous claim, the
of this meliorism has since been called into question. To be sure, the armed forces
segregated, various race riots (and even gunbattles) took place on US
and US servicemen of color were often discriminated against and
sometimes even while in uniform.
Although Myrdal's was
predominant voice in the 1940s sociology of race, Stouffer et al's
was also significant, especially since the latter's work appeared at
the same moment that the US military was finally desegregated. Both
departed from the conflict-oriented approach that had largely informed
sociology of race into the 1930s. Viewed in conjunction with other
sociological work of the period (notably MacIver, ed. 1949) these works
seen as definitively introducing an integration-oriented perspective on
relations into mainstream sociology.
While recognizing the
segregation and racial prejudice, the structural-functionalist view of
consistently stressed the integrative qualities of US society; thus the
of the two uses of that term "integration" -- one that summarized the
key civil rights demands of the era, and one that framed sociological
explanations in terms of social unity and commonality -- is more than a
synecdoche. Deep-seated conflicts were not amenable to the
structural-functionalist account; at most they could appear as "social
problems," or be understood as having "latent" functions (Coser
1956) of an integrative sort. An understanding of race and racial
foundational elements in US society and culture (not to mention as
world-historically significant issues), was not possible within this
which thus tended to marginalize radical accounts such as those
the Duboisian tradition, anticolonialist and pan-African thought, or
symptoms of the tensions inherent in societal self-regulation, however,
matters could be understood as amenable to reform. Racial conflict
little attention in Parsons's early work, but after the appearance of An
American Dilemma he began writing more about race. Drawing on
focusing largely upon micro-sociological phenomena, Parsons began
about prejudice as a problem of values (i.e., white values) in the late
1940s. The edited work Toward a General Theory of Action
(Parsons and Shils,
eds. 1951) contained a substantial essay by Allport taking this
approach. Parsons begins the
essay ÒFull Citizenship for the Negro American? A
Sociological Problem,Ó written for The Negro American
Clark, eds. 1967) at the height of the civil rights struggle, by
social-psychologically. He recognizes the values-conflict that
the experience of white prejudice engenders in blacks, echoing
diagnosis of the Òdilemma.Ó A reform-oriented transition
is underway, he
suggests, in which inclusion is first advanced by legal action, then by
politics, and finally by state-based guarantees of social citizenship
redistribution of resources (Parsons 1967, 718). The informed reader
struggled with this even in 1967, notably with its underestimation of
resistance -- from overt "backlash" politics on down to limited
reform -- that such a program would face, and indeed was already
"up North" as well as "down South."
Looking back on
of race, what is most striking is his ungainly combination of sympathy
(Òmoderate,Ó to be sure) with the civil rights movement
and his striking
unfamiliarity with the nonwhite world. He does manage some criticism of
prejudice and discrimination, but he depicts US Òrace
relationsÓ as undergoing
a steady progress toward inclusion of blacks, a condition which he
think was on the verge of accomplishment in 1966. A deeper interest in
life and thought, however, eludes him.
was the eminent
black psychologist Kenneth B. Clark, whose work in The Negro
took a much less rosy view of mid-1960s US racial politics. That
edited collection appeared roughly simultaneously with Clark's book Dark
Ghetto (1965) in which he began to reassess what had been a
commitment to integration. Clark's analysis of black
and white racism invoked the "internal colonialism" framework; his
influential book anticipated Blauner's important radical analyses
that extended and popularized the concept several years later. Clark had been the first tenured black professor
College of New York, where he began teaching in 1942. He is perhaps
for the influence his early work on internalized prejudice (the famous
"doll experients" experiments carried out in collaboration with his
wife Mamie Phipps Clark) had on the Supreme Court's 1954 Brown
decision. But his social psychological approach to racism and black
collective and individual, has shaped thinking about racial "identity
politics" more generally, right down to the present day. In rough
parallel to Du Bois's trajectory, Clark's early work envisioned racial
as occurring through integration and the extension of rational and
norms to US whites; we can see his affinities with the Myrdal model, as
with Parsons's attempted systematization, with this lens. But his
already visible in the mid-1960s and became more pronounced throughout
later ouevre. These led him to more radical -- and in some
more "nationalist" -- positions as similar tendencies gained
increasing traction in the black community.
At its apogee the
structural-functionalist approach to race sought to meld (or
sociological thought into a different kind of nationalism -- the
kind (Bell 1964; Gouldner 1970). Not long after sociologyÕs
embrace of civil
rights came a new round of racial anomalies: above all, the black power
and its cousins, brown power, yellow power, and red power. In addition
began to appear as a global issue, not just a US domestic problem.
sociological paradigms had recognized this better than the post-WWII
did: for all their limits, the biologistic approach had located race in
sphere of "development," and the Chicago pragmatists had seen its
intimate connections with imperialism.
During the later
structural-functionalist sociologyÕs heavy hitters encountered
the limits of
their double-edged integrationism. The larger panoply of post-WWII
issues -- the crisis of the old European empires, and the suppression
the 1940s and 1950s of radical (black and racially-mixed) organizations
opposing continuing colonialism in Africa, the Caribbean, and Asia
racial moderatesÕ framework: the paradigm could not grasp these
the deeply racialized issues they were, both on their native soils in
Asia, and Latin America but also as they were mirrored in movement
leading lights were
cold warriors; they had taken up the civil rights banner at a time when
segregation, lynching, and discrimination against racially-defined
had become deep embarassments for the US. Did Parsons read Fanon or
Bois? Did Merton consider the sociology of African development proposed
one-time junior colleague Immanuel Wallerstein? Did Kingsley Davis --
on population in South Asia, comparative urbanization, and the
sociology of the
family and reproduction in global perspective -- ever address
anticolonialism? According to Lipset at least (1994), these leading
figures, and many others as
well, came to sociology after youthful involvement with socialism and
communism. No doubt they were nervous in the late 1940s and 1950s; this
quite logical: many of them were being watched.
vantage-point of the
present, racial dynamics can be seen as deeply structuring all these
issues. But during the 1950s and 1960s racial issues appeared largely
to be US domestic
problems. They were not to be confused with the battle against
Racial integration was supported while the purges and witch-hunting
stigmatized and disemployed some of the field's most active advocates
racial justice were condoned, at least in part.  The major
associated with the structural-functionalist paradigm of race did not
the Vietnam war or consider its racial implications. King's 1967
of the war from the pulpit of New York's Riverside Church was condemned
"moderate" sociologists of race as Daniel Moynihan, as it was by such
"moderate" civil rights leaders as Roy Wilkins and Whitney Young. In
the 1960s such figures as Milton Gordon and Nathan Glazer combined
the "moderate" tendencies in the civil rights movement and rejection
of "negative" discrimination (the exclusionary kind), with
denunciation of "positive" discrimination (aka affirmative action). Thus they prefigured or
perhaps launched the neoconservative racial
reaction and the "colorblind" resurgence of the post-civil rights era
And sure enough,
did dismiss the significance of integration, both the movement kind and
functionalist kind. To the consternation of the racial "moderates"
and structural-functionalists, that radicalism, redolent of the 1930s,
reappeared in the later 1960s. It posed a discomfiting question: how
integration -- in both the sociological sense and the racial sense --
American society willing to deliver?
The elective affinity
between movement-oriented racial reformism and
the sociological critique of racial prejudice and discrimination was
not permanent. Reformism made sense in the period before Brown and continued to
represent a vital
political current until the mid-1960s or so. The assimilationism
unequivocally by Myrdal and the integrationism put forward by Parsons
Clark, however, were soon exceeded by the vast agenda that meaningful
reform entailed. This was a point made forcefully by the new wave of
riots beginning in Harlem in 1964, by the assassinations of Malcolm and
by the resurgence of black nationalism and the "black power revolt,"
and by the doomed US defense of neocolonialism in Asia. Although
Merton, and other moderates tried valiantly to advocate an
integrationist view of race and civil rights, by the later 1960s the
reassertion of a conflict-oriented sociology of race (Ladner , ed.
the emergence of identity politics were the key problems confronting
sociology of race. Structural-functionalism was ill-equipped to face
challenge, though many of its key approaches would resurface again in
under the banner of neoconservatism.
MOVEMENT PARADIGM V. THE NEOCONSERVATIVE PARADIGM
By the later 1960s
the civil rights paradigm had been ruptured in
sociology as it had in American politics. Views of race were divided
between a social movement paradigm that criticized the
civil rights reforms of the 1960s as inadequate
and tokenistic, and a neoconservative paradigm that called for
despite comprehensive and continuing racial stratification in US
the standard sociological subjects were in play, and debated, between
antagonistic positions, which we may once again label, in good
ÒintegrationistÓ v. Òconflict-basedÓ views.
On the one hand, urban riots,
radical anti-racist movements, significant waves of state-sponsored
repression, neocolonial foreign policy and military intervention in the
"third world," and deepening ghettoization and inequality at home,
all seemed to negate the civil rights movement's accomplishments. On
hand, overt racial prejudice seemed to be declining, US imperial
losing ground both in the jungles of Southeast Asia and in the face of
protest at home, and middle-class racially-defined minorities, at
experiencing heightened mobility. By the 1970s, in a virtually
development, civil rights laws and practices were coming under fire
political right as Òreverse discrimination,Ó and forceful
claims were being
made that the US was entering a "postracial" era of
"colorbindness" and meritocracy.
were effectively captured in what was probably the
most thorough survey of racial beliefs ever undertaken in US sociology,
et al's Racial Attitudes in America (1997 ). This book
notable for its recursive commitments: the authors relate their
historical trends informed by political conflict, cultural
shifting concepts of identity; they also seek to distinguish between
repondents' professed attitudes and their applied beliefs, their
"attitudes in practice." This refinement of Merton's (1949)
distinction between prejudice and behavior, expresses more than the
noted "disconnect" between expressed racial attitudes and underlying
practice; pondering the effective socialization of their respondents to
attitude research (where research subjects conform to post-civil rights
of tolerance), Schuman et al question the methodological effectiveness
accuracy of racial attitude research.
As organized American
sociology ended its first century, a prolonged
period of irresolution and paradigm conflict continued in the sociology
race. To grasp the unresolved state of the sociology of race at the
turn of the
21st century is to consider race from a political sociological point of
view. What has been the outcome of the racial reforms extracted by
from various regimes -- both in the US and globally -- over the
post-WWII decades? In part as a consequence of the civil rights and
anti-apartheid campaigns, as well as anti-colonialist and indigenous
struggles, the sociology of race
shift toward a new social movements paradigm. This approach drew
neo-marxist political economy, organization theory ("resource
mobilization" etc.) and cultural studies to propose a "political
process" approach to the sociology of race (McAdam 1982; Morris 1984;
McAdam et al, eds. 1996). Invoking postmodern concepts such as
racial meanings" and returning to pragmatist sociological ideas of
"role-taking," stigma, and Duboisian "double consciousness"
(Omi and Winant 1994; Winant 2001; Kelley 2003; Balibar and Wallerstein
Hall 1980; Dawson 2001), the Ònew social movementÓ
approach sought to
understand the radicalization of the racial justice movements of the
rights, postcolonial, and even post-apartheid (after 1994) period.
influence (and movement critique) in these works was
palpable. Notably, significant attention was devoted to
"intersectionality" -- the complex linkages among racial,
gender-based, and class-oriented forms of domination and exploitation.
examples: the prevalence and attitudes toward miscegenation and
identities were analyzed as indices of racial rule and resistance to
well as instances of divergence and conflict among feminist,
working-class movements (Collins 2004; Higginbotham 2001; Romero and
eds. 1999). Race and gender were studied as key determinations of labor
regimes and citizenship structures in the US (Glenn 2002).
At the same time,
however, the partial but important effects of civil
rights reform in palliating racial injustice, permitting some
upward mobility, limiting if not eliminating racial discrimination in
employment, education, immigration, and cultural production (and other
well), had tangible consequences for the sociology of race. Advancing
for a neoconservative paradigm, this current --
also quite vast -- analyzed US racial
dynamics in a manner that often seemed to suggest a
approach. Beginning with a largely policy-oriented body of work
affirmative action and welfare policy (Glazer 1975; Murray 1984;
Patterson 1997, Thernstrom and Thernstrom 1997), neoconservatism
roughly 1970 into a center-right political project with a growing mass
base. Its centerpiece was the claim that, confronted by protest and by
rights movement's insistent reminders of American values -- "I Have a
Dream," etc. -- US society had moved decisively though imperfectly
racial integration and toward a mainstream, post-racial ideology based
idea of "colorblindness." Movement orientations were now
anachronistic or worse: they advocated Òreverse
discriminationÓ and practiced
"victimology" (McWhorter 2000). Drawing on long-standing black
conservative traditions (some of them "nationalist" in their own
right), on free-market economics (of another "Chicago school," that
of Friedman, Hayek, Becker et al), and claiming a post-civil rights
of their own, neoconservative writers made significant headway in the
of race. By the later 1990s
neoconservatism had ÒgraduatedÓ from postracialism to
chief interests were the consolidation of a Ònew American
uncertain in this emerging post-civil rights
political and intellectual climate. Old problems once stressed by the
pragmatists resurfaced: ParkÕs linkage of race and empire, and
connection between prejudice and racial hierarchy, to pick just two. Du
pan-Africanism reappeared as 3rd worldism; Garveyism reappeared as
Afrocentrism. Even debates on biologistic views of race returned: the
neoconservative bible The Bell Curve (1994) received intense
from sociologists (Hauser 1995; Fischer et al 1996; Fraser, ed. 1995)
critical racially-oriented sociologies of science, genomics, and health
1990, 2001; Nelkin and Tancredi 1989). Neoconservative assaults on
action contended with with spirited defenses and attempted reframings
policies (Thernstrom and Therstom 1997; Massey et al 2002; Kahlenberg
1996). Such leading figures in the field as William J. Wilson argued
that race was
"declining in significance" (Wilson 1978), proposing a class-based
(or class-reductionist) view of race. Wilson's attempt to reconcile the
movement paradigm (with its redistributionist core) and the
paradigm (with its blame-the-victim framework) necessarily cracked
pressure. His position was grounded, not in an argument that racial
was disappearing, but in a strategic orientation he described as social
democratic (Wilson 1999). This view made too many
to the developing neoconservative consensus of official
"colorblindness." It tended to minimize the ongoing (and in some ways
deepening) racial inequality that
(and indeed was reinforced by) the neoconservative "colorblind"
So we are in a
quandary, we sociologists of race: as the 21st century
begins, we lack a dominant theoretical paradigm of race. Although this
situation has all the characteristics of an interregnum, it is far from
peaceful one. If the neoconservative viewpoint continues to gain ground
field, that can only be as a result of larger political developments:
evisceration of the welfare state with its attendant contempt for the
commitment to incarceration as a social policy, the reversion to empire
being urged vis-a-vis Islam and the Middle East, or the rise in Latino
and influence, which stokes nativist impulses (Huntington 2004;
not unknown in sociology.
intuitively and recalling the experience of attending
recent annual meetings of the American Sociological Association, I find
prospect of a recrudescence of the racial right in the discipline of
rather unlikely. However beset by uncertainties, the sociology of race
movement-oriented. This can be attributed to the deep influence of the
black movement. I have argued elsewhere that the US racial upsurge was
manifestation (albeit a very important one) of a global convergence of
egalitarian and democratic currents in the sphere of race, a political
"rupture" or "break" that was only contained with great
diffculty over the latter decades of the 20th century (Winant 2001). By
means has the influence of this "break" yet disappeared from the
field of sociology.
But that racial
upsurge was certainly contained: both as a global and
domestic political force. It was incorporated in the US and elsewhere
range of "postracial" political hegemonies, of which US
"colorblindness" is but one variant. It has
made some gains in sociology as well: not only on the right, where a
"colorblind" view is upheld by more scholars than the Thernstroms;
but also on the left, where an antiracist humanism that dismisses the
of the race-concept is acquiring influence (Gilroy 2000). If a
the sociological integrationism of Parsons et al is not in the cards
neoconservative auspices or any others), neither is a resurgence of the
movement-oriented racial radicalism of the black power (and brown
power, red power) era.
claims that we have entered a postracial era are
vitiated by the omnipresence of race-consciousness and the continuities
structural racism: by almost every conceivable indicator researchers
forward, the same racial inequalities that existed in the past persist
modified here and there perhaps, but hardly eliminated and not even
reduced in scope, especially in terms of black-white disparities. This
the place to inventory the data, but whether we look at wealth/income
(in)equality, health, access to/returns to education, segregation by
or occupation, rates of surveillance or punishment by the criminal
"justice" system, or the many other indicators that compare racial
"life-chances," we find patterns strikingly similar to those of the
past. The sorts of inclusionist reforms sought by Myrdal and the civil
who became neocons have simply not materialized.
Meanwhile the radical
demands of the great anti-racist movements of
past decades have also been damaged by the cunning of history. Largely
nationalist and class-based, these positions come up short in an age of
globalization and diaspora, when racially-defined "peoplehood" is
spread across the planet and hard to express (not to mention to
traditional nationalist terms. The decline of socialism, however prone
criticism the "actually existing socialist regimes" may have been,
has hardly helped political programs calling for racial redistribution.
So a full century
after the American Sociological Society was founded,
the quandary of race, the theme that claimed so much attention so long
stubbornly refuses to disappear. No new sociological paradigm of race
appeared in quite some time, as the field struggles -- and the nation
world struggle -- with the ongoing racial crisis of the post-civil
post-apartheid, postcolonial era. The old has died, but the new cannot
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