seamster and ray on race and progress

Seamster and Ray have an article in Sociological Theory arguing that sociologists should drop progress as a framing for the study of race. Here’s the abstract:

We argue that claims of racial progress rest upon untenable teleological assumptions founded in Enlightenment discourse. We examine the theoretical and methodological focus on progress and its historical roots. We argue research should examine the concrete mechanisms that produce racial stability and change, and we offer three alternative frameworks for interpreting longitudinal racial data and phenomena. The first sees racism as a “fundamental cause,” arguing that race remains a “master category” of social differentiation. The second builds on Glenn’s “settler colonialism as structure” framework to describe race relations as a mutually constituted and place-based system of resource allocation. The third framework draws attention to racialized agency.

I think Seamster and Ray are onto to something. I think they are correct in that it was unwise to believe that racial categories would disappear or stop being salient to how people are treated. At the same time, I think it is a mistake to take their argument in its strongest form – that racial inequality will always simply reappear in new forms or that mitigation of racial inequalities are fleeting and illusory. For example, there seems to be some variation in how low status groups are treated in American society – some are permanently disenfranchised, like African Americans; some are granted an “honorary privilege,” like Asian Americans; and some lose their stigma, such as Irish or Italian Americans. Also, there seem to be qualitative changes in institutions that are hugely important that result in what political scientists like to call “settlements:” basic status inequalities remain but very important and tangible rights are granted, such as the passage of the 14th amendment or the 1964 Civil Rights Act. S&R are correct in that race remains and continues to be a form of inequality, but it would be over reaching to argue that progress is meaningless and should be abandoned.


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Written by fabiorojas

March 22, 2019 at 4:28 am

Posted in uncategorized

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