This is part 2 of our book forum on Emirbayer and Desmond’s The Racial Order. Here, I’ll discuss the first 80 pages of the book, which starts with an amazingly ill advised sentence: “there has never been a comprehensive and systematic theory of race.” This is a really bad starting point because even a non-specialist such as myself can easily come up with three (!) major systematic and comprehensive theories of race:
- Race is a socially constructed group division based on ancestry and physical appearance: This theory was articulated in classical theory, such as Weber’s discussion of caste and DuBois’ work on American race relations. It has many, many proponents.
- Race is a biological variation in human beings: The modern version of this theory comes from studies of genetic variation. In sociology, the journal Sociological Theory (ahem) had a massive symposium on genomic theories of race, which we discussed here.
- Race is a social category meant to signal a group’s place in the means of production or political system: This theory is less discussed in sociology, but is a popular theory in anthropology. For example, John Comaroff is a well known anthropologist who explores this argument as do many others.
So, from my view, the problem isn’t that we lack a theory of race. Rather, we have *tons* of theories of race and *tons* of empirical evidence.The problem is sorting it all out.
Adding to this issue is the avoidance of work that would seem to help bolster various parts of the book. For example, one crucial element of Emirbayer and Desmond’s theory is work on race that its insistence on an unconscious and interactional dimension of race, as would be suggested by Bourdieusian theory. The modern “racism without racists” school actively draws on Bourdieusian sociology very clearly, as does the work on race, cultural capital and status attainment. Yet, the work of Eduardo Bonilla-Silva or Prudence Carter are barely mentioned in text. Another example: In the recent Theory of Fields (2012), Neil Fligstein and Doug McAdam actually have an entire chapter applying field theory to civil rights mobilization. These are not obscure points. This is a major issue: why does a supposedly systematic treatment of race avoid the many major scholars whose work defines race scholarship in modern sociology? I am puzzled.
Before I wrap up, a stylistic point and a nit picky point. Stylistic: I think one drawback of the book is that it employs a classical “theory bloat” style of writing. For example, it doesn’t actually tell you it’s theory of race for 80 pages!! It also takes detours into reflexivity theory and a bunch of other issues. I really suggest that readers skip directly to Part II for the good stuff. This reminds me of the time I read Jeffrey Alexander’s Neofunctionalism and After – which doesn’t tell you what neofunctionalism is until page 110!
Nit picky: the book occasionally has some points of intellectual laziness. For example, at one point, there is a detour about the evils of regression analysis. Bizarre. Given that sociology is moving into a comfortable mixed method approach to data, we don’t need grad school seminar cheap shots. Regression analysis is fine and it’s perfectly good for studying trends in data, assuming you’ve put in the effort to collect high quality data. That sort of cheap shot is below these authors.
Next week: We’ll discuss Part II of The Racial Order. Spoiler: I like it!
Samuel R. Lucas is professor of sociology at the University of California, Berkeley. He works on education, social mobility, and research methods. This guest post proposes a reform of the journal review process.
On-going discussion about the journal publication process is laudable. I support many of the changes that have been suggested, such as the proposal to move to triple-blind review, and implemented, such as the rise of new journals that reject “dictatorial revi”–oops, I mean “developmental review.” I suggest, however, that part of the problem is that reviewers are encouraged to weigh in on anything–literally anything! I’ve reviewed papers and later received others’ reviews only to find a reviewer ignored almost all of the paper, weighing in on such issues as punctuation and choice of abbreviations for some technical terms. Although such off-point reviews are rare, they indicate that reviewers perceive it legitimate to weigh in on anything and everything. But a system allowing unlimited bases of review is part of the problem with peer review, for it shifts too much power to reviewers while at the same time providing insufficient guidance on what will be helpful in peer review. I contend that we need dispense with our kitchen-sink reviewing system by removing from reviewer consideration two aspects of papers: framing and findings.
Framing is a matter of taste and, as there is no accounting for taste, framing offers fertile ground for years of delay. Framing is an easy way to hold a paper hostage, because most solid papers could be framed in any one of several ways, and often multiple frames are equally valid. Authors should be allowed to frame their work as they see fit, not be forced to alter the frame because a reviewer reads the paper differently than the author. A reviewer who feels a paper should be framed differently should wait for its publication and then submit a paper that notes that the paper addressed Z but missed its connection to Q. Such an approach would make any worthwhile debate on framing public while freeing authors to place their ideas into the dialogue as well.
As for findings, peer review should be built on the following premise: if you accept the methods, then you accept the findings enough for the paper to enter the peer-reviewed literature. Thus, reviewers should assess whether the paper’s (statistical, experimental, qualitative) research design can answer the paper’s research question, but not the findings produced by the solid research design. Allowing reviewers to evaluate findings allows reviewers to (perhaps inadvertantly) scrutinize papers differently depending on the findings. To prevent such possibilities, journals should allow authors to request a findings-embargoed review, for which the journal would remove the findings section of the paper as well as the findings from: 1)the abstract, and, 2)the discussion/conclusion section of the paper before delivering the paper for review. As some reviewers may regard reading soon-to-be-published work early as a benefit of reviewing, reviewers could be sent full manuscripts if the paper is accepted for publication.
A review system in which reviewers do not review framing and findings is a design-focused review system. Once a paper passes a design-focused review, editors can conduct an in-house assessment to assure findings are accurately conveyed and the framing is coherent. The editors, unlike reviewers, see the population of submissions, and thus, unlike reviewers, are well-placed to fairly and consistently assess any other issues. Editors will be even more enabled to make such calls if they can make them only for the papers reviewers have determined satisfy the basic criterion of having a design solid enough to answer the question the paper poses.
The current kitchen-sink review system has become increasingly time-consuming and perhaps capricious, hardly positive features for effective peer review. If findings were embargoed and reviewers were discouraged from treating their preferred frame as essential to a quality paper, review times could be chopped dramatically and revise and resubmit processes would be focused on solidifying design. As a result, design-focused review could lower our collective workload by reducing the number of taste-driven rounds of review we experience as authors and reviewers, while simultaneously reducing authors’ potentially paralyzing concern that mere matters of taste will block their research from timely publication. Design-focused review may thus make peer review work better for everyone.
It is very common for state and federal legislators to pass statutes denying undocumented, or even documented, immigrants state services such as access to public schools, public health services, and driver’s licenses. Many immigrants rights advocates oppose these measures because they impose hardship. I oppose them on more fundamental grounds – denial of public service is theft pure and simple.
Nearly all people who reside in a state must pay taxes and lots of them. Nearly all consumer purchases have sales tax. Anyone who purchases a home pays property tax and those who rent pay that tax indirectly. Most states have income taxes as well. Of course, you can also pay local and state taxes in other ways such as utility tax, hotel tax, cigarette taxes, and taxes on all kinds of services.
Thus, unless an immigrant completely opts out of the economy, they pay a lot of taxes. And denying state services is simply taking money and not giving people what has been promised. That’s stealing by any other name.
In immigration debates, critics will say that there’s a difference between the citizen and the migrant in terms of rights and obligations. This distinction makes little sense. Am I allowed to rob a Mexican just because he is born in another nation? May I murder a Chinese woman simply because she is from China? Of course not. The obligation to respect other people’s life and personal safety is universal. Having a legislature vote does not give me the right to steal from others or harm them.
Those who believe that we have a social contract are morally required to provide services to immigrants so long as taxes are collected. Otherwise, the state just becomes a violent organization that transfers wealth from migrants to natives. Even if you believe undocumented migration is a crime, you should still believe that they should still receive the same services as others who commit crimes of similar severity. If the children of murderers can still go school, then so should the children of undocumented immigrants.
This book forum will focus on another widely discussed book in the sociology of race – The Racial Order by Mustafa Emirbayer and Matthew Desmond. The book has attracted a lot of attention for multiple reasons. It makes bold claims about the history of sociology, it offers an interactionist approach to race, and its authors are among some of the most highly regarded sociologists in the profession right now.
So what is the content of The Racial Order? In my reading, the book has two parts. First, the book argues that there literally (and I mean literally) is no over arching theory of race in sociology. Second, the book offers a theory of race drawn, in parts, from pragamatism, Durkheim, various interactionists, and Bourdieu, which I call PDIB theory. Roughly speaking, they imagine race as existing on multiple levels from interactions to aggregate social structures and that this can be synthesized into a Bourdieu style theoretical construct called “the racial order.”
Personally, I found this book forum very tricky to write about because these two parts elicited very different reactions from me. So I settled on “split decision” – I really think that the first 80 pages of The Racial Order are really off base but I think PDIB theory is a nice way to synthesize a number of trends in the study of race and inequality more generally. This, I think, explains the very diverse reactions to the book in the discipline. I think the sociology of race and ethnicity crowd is correct in thinking that the first chunk of the book is a limited, even distorted and misleading, approach to the current scholarship on race. In contrast, I think a lot of people might enjoy PDIB theory as a way to generalize some of the ideas found in the “racism without racists” school of thought and other types of sociology that build on field and habitus theory as a starting point for discussing race.
The next part of the book forum will focus on the first claim about what has, or has not been achieved, in the sociology of race. So it’s going to be critical because E&D were really uncharitable. Then, I’ll finish on a high note and discuss what I think PDIB has to contribute. In between, I’ll discuss the structures of racism literature as the second part of a commentary on the article by Tanya Golash-Boza that was recently published in the The Sociology of Race and Ethnicity.
The 2016 Democratic primary is a mirror image of the 2008 primary. In 2008, Hillary Clinton fell behind in delegates on Super Tuesday and required blow out victories to regain the lead. Even though it was extraordinarily unlikely that she could do that, Clinton continued to run until the very, very end. Now Hillary has done the same to Sanders in 2016. He got a big win in New Hampshire and a tie in Iowa, but did very poorly in South Carolina and never recovered. He can only climb back into the lead if he gets big wins in big states to offset Clinton’s lead, which didn’t happen this week and is unlikely to happen over the next month. Yet, Sanders is still running strong. Why?
A few reasons:
- By basing his campaign on small donors, it is possible to continually raise money. He can bypass the party establishment who would normally yank support for a campaign at this stage.
- He’s an ideological candidate. Sure, he’d love to win and is trying his best, but he wants to change policy and the terms of debate. That doesn’t require him to win the most pledged delegates.
- It’s fun. If the support is there and you’re winning a bunch of states, even small ones, why quit? It’s gotta be more interesting than Vermont.
- A Clinton indictment: Let’s say there is a 1% chance that Federal prosecutors will indict on a misdemeanor or felony. If Sanders places a strong second in the nomination contest, he’d make a strong case that he should be the back up. And if he gets the nomination, there’s a good chance he’ll win the presidency since the economy is relatively strong. So a 1% chance of becoming president is easily worth the time and effort.
Clinton will likely get the pledged delegate majority in May, but the primary will continue to Bern.