race – sociology’s groundhog day: comment on an article by tanya golash-boza
Tanya Golash-Boza has a new article called “A Critical and Comprehensive Sociological Theory of Race and Racism,” in The Sociology of Race and Ethnicity. In it, she makes two arguments. First, sociologists say over and over and over that there is no theory of race. Then, she outlines the theory of race as it actually exists in the literature. I’ll get to this next week, but for now, let’s start with the groundhog day approach to the sociology of race.
Tanya starts off with the groundhog day issue – people keep insisting there is no theory of race and they say it endlessly. I quote here from Tanya’s article
- Bonilla-Silva (1997): “the area of race and ethnic studies lacks a sound theoretical apparatus.”
- Winant (200): “The inadequacy of the range of theoretical approaches to race available in sociology at the turn of the twenty-first century is striking.”
- Faegin (2001): “in the case of racist oppression, … we do not as yet have as strongly agreed-upon concepts and well-developed theoretical traditions as we have for class and gender oppression.”
- Emirbayer and Desmond (2015): “there has never been a comprehensive and systematic theory of race.”
- Omi and Winant (2015): “Despite the enormous legacy and volume of racial theory, the concept of race remains poorly understood and inadequately explained.”
So why do people keep saying this? Why does each generation claim that there is no theory, then offer a theory that the next generation refuses to recognize?
Two hypotheses. First, there may be a systematic undervaluing race research by minority scholars. In The Scholar Denied, Morris makes this claim about DuBois. Second, perhaps the sociology of race, more than other areas, attracts scholars with want to rush into an area and not engage with it.
This sentiment is puzzling given that it is surprisingly easy to find theoretical treatments of race. The search term”sociology theories of race” yields in the top 10 results the following texts: Race Relations in Sociological Theory by John Rex, Sociological Theory and Race Relations by E. Franklin Frazier, and Theories of Race and Racism edited by Back and Solomos. Those who teach or specialize in the sociology of race could easily produce a list of texts that survey theories of race or offer their own.
Next week, we’ll dive into this issue, and others, as we review Emirbayer and Desmond’s The Racial Order.