emirbayer & desmond book forum 1: two books, two verdicts
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.