22 terms

Race Prelim, Social Construction

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Social Construction Definition Authors
Omi and Winant (2004), Desmond and Emirbayer (2010), Barth, Brubaker, Loveman and Stamatov (2004)
There is a broad consensus among social scientists today that race and ethnicity are social constructions. What do social scientists mean when they say race and ethnicity are "socially constructed"? Race is socially constructed as opposed to what?
In popular US forums such as film and media, race is talked about and often viewed as something fixed and immutable—something rooted in "nature." This discourse masks the historical construction of racial categories, the shifting meaning of race, and the crucial role of politics and ideology in shaping race relations. Races do not emerge full blown. They are the results of diverse historical practices and are continually subject to challenge over their definition and meaning (Omi and Winant 2004)

For the most part social scientists agree that race is socially constructed as opposed to biological.
Biological Understandings of Race
Desmond and Emirbayer (2010)- The biological argument asserted that the diversity of racial groups in the world is due to genetic and biological differences between these groups. However, scientists have shown that there is greater variation within groups (8.6x's), than between groups. In fact, humans share 99.9% (this number varies by source) of the same genes/genetic material. Other efforts to tie raceto natural/biological differences was encompassed within arguments about visible physical differences. But the problem with this is that 'obvious' distinctions differ across time and space. However, differences in athletic ability and IQ between racial groups are often problematically given as sufficient evidence for the natural categories of race. They use both to challenge the naturalness of race, and instead as an illustration of the social construction of race.
What is social construction according to Barth
Barth pioneered what later became known as "constructivism": the claim that ethnicity is the product of a social process rather than a cultural given, made and remade rather than taken for granted, chosen depending on circumstances rather than ascribed through birth (Wimmer 2008).
What is social construction according to Brubaker, Loveman & Stamatov (2004)
Brubaker, Loveman & Stamatov (2004) go as far as to say, "ethnicity is fundamentally not a thing in the world, but a perspective on the world." Race, ethnicity, and nationality exist only in and through our perceptions, interpretations, representations, classifications, categorizations, and identifications. "Cognitive construction, in short, is social construction. It is only in and through cognitive processes and mechanisms that the social construction of race, ethnicity, and nation can plausibly be understood to occur."
Authors in favor of a Distinction Ethnicity vs. Race Distinction
Banton (1979), Cornell & Hartmann (1998), Bonilla-Silva (1997), Omi & Winant (1994), Winant (2000), Desmond & Emirbayer (2009)
Summary of Race vs. Ethnicity Distinction
Race is said to be involuntary, ethnicity voluntary; race to be a matter of external categorization, ethnicity to internal self-identification; race to be based on differences of phenotype, ethnicity on differences of culture; race to be rigid, ethnicity flexible; race to involve super and subordinate, ethnicity coordinate groups; race to arise from processes of exclusion, ethnicity from processes of inclusion; race to have grown out of European colonial encounter with the non-European world, ethnicity out of the history of nation-state formation (Brubaker 2009). But, as outlined by Dikotter (1997) and Wacquant (1997), some "racial" categories have histories largely independent of European colonial expansion. Wacquant (1997)- although the history of race correlates closely with that of Western imperialism, it is neither fully coterminous with, nor reducible to, the latter. Colonial expansion accelerated and amplified the impulse to categorize on putative biological grounds but it neither initiated nor ever wholly contained it. Additionally, "racism" is not targeted solely at people of color. The first groups to be racialized by Europe were not colonized populations but the Others from the Interior: Jews, peasants, workers, rival and recalcitrant nationalities within nascent states, and this well before the bloom of imperialism. There were long-standing racial traditions in non-Western societies like China


Some scholars continue to argue for the categorical distinctiveness of race and for studying race, racism (Mason 1994), "racialized social systems" (Bonilla-Silva 1997), or "racial formations" (Omi & Winant 1994, Winant 2000) on their own as phenomena with their own structures and dynamics, sharply distinct from those of ethnicity and nationalism (this point in made in Brubaker 2009).

Some of these scholars who make this distinction, notably Cornell and Hartmann 1998, do not treat the distinction as hard and fast, but emphasize the extensive overlapping and blurring between the two.
Race vs. Ethnicity Cornell & Hartmann 1998
Cornell & Hartmann (1998)- see race and ethnicity as referring to distinct but often overlapping bases of identification. For them, race and ethnicity involve two different processes of identity construction. Either one may be rooted in assignment by others, but when groups assert their own identities, filling them with their own context, they are acting in classically ethnic ways. Thus, a race may be, but is not necessarily, at the same time an ethnic group; and an ethnic group may be, but is not necessarily a race. According to their theory, race implies a naturalness that is difficult to overcome and an inherent difference in worth that typically reflects power relations. Ethnicity more readily conveys something variable and changing. Their approach departs from others who distinguish between ethnicity and race in terms of power, which they believe works in the US case but not in all countries.
Race vs. Ethnicity Banton (1979)
Banton (1979)- Where membership in a racial minority is often involuntary, membership in an ethnic minority is usually voluntary: a person who is not physically distinguished can to some extent choose how he wishes to be socially identified. Thus it can be held that beliefs about racial ascription can be used to create exclusive boundaries, while ethnic sentiments are used to create inclusive boundaries. Banton argues forcefully in favor of granting analytic status to the concept of race on the grounds that 1) try as they may, sociologists simply cannot disentangle themselves from it; 2) social science concepts ought to be continuous with commonsense ones (Wacquant 1997).
Race vs. Ethnicity Bonilla-Silva (1997, 1999)
Bonilla-Silva (1997, 1999)- ethnicity and race are different bases for group association. Ethnicity has a primarily sociocultural foundation, and ethnic groups have exhibited tremendous malleability in terms of who belongs (Barth 1969; Leach [1954] 1964); racial ascriptions (initially) are imposed externally to justify the collective exploitation of a people and are maintained to preserve status differences. Hence scholars have pointed out that despite the similarities between race and ethnicity, they should be viewed as producing different types of structurations (Balibar and Wallerstein 1991; Cox 1948; Rex 1973; van den Berghe 1967; Wilson 1973). The primary reason EBS argues that race and ethnicity are different is that they are produced by different histories. Races and racisms are historically linked to the history and consequences of colonial encounters; ethnicity is connected to the history of nation-state formation. race initially is assigned externally, whereas ethnicity is often a matter of self-assertion. Second, race is intrinsically connected to power relations and hierarchy; ethnicity is not. Race is a way of etherizing, of excluding. Ethnicity is a way of asserting distinctiveness and creating a sense of commonality (Cornell and Hartmann1998:27).
Authors against an analytic distinction between race and ethnicity
Bourdieu (1991), Wacquant (1997), Loveman (1999), Brubaker (2002, 2009) , Wimmer (2008)
Summary of critique of making distinctions between race and ethnicity
These scholars treat race, ethnicity, and nationalism as belonging to a single integrated domain. This does not mean, that one should treat race, ethnicity, and nationalism as an undifferentiated domain. Distinctions can be drawn on a number of dimensions, but these do not map neatly onto conventional distinctions between race, ethnicity, and nation. Rather than seek to demarcate precisely their respective spheres, it may be more productie to focus on identifying and explaining patterns of variation on these and other dimensions, without worrying too much about where exactly race stops and ethnicity begins (Brubaker 2009).

1. Based on folk concept, conflates analytic and folk concepts of race, reifies race, conflates categories of practice with categories of analysis (Wacquant 1997, Brubaker and Cooper 2000, Brubaker 2002, Loveman 1999)
2. Race cannot be both object and tool of analysis (Wacquant 1997)
3. Analytic distinctions between race and ethnicity are based on commonsense understanding prevalent at particular times in the United States (Wacquant 1997;Loveman 1999; Bourdieu and Wacquant 1999)
4. Undermines attempts to improve operation and consequences of race in different times and places (Loveman 1999)
5. Treating race as fundamentally different from ethnicity overlooks the fact that one and the same group of individuals might be treated as a race at one point in history and as another type of ethnic category at another (Wimmer 2008)
6. Phonotypical differences are often evoked as one among other markers of ethnic distinction, just as race (Wimmer 2008)
7. Distinguishing between race as fixed, imposed, and exclusionary, on the one hand, and ethnicity as fluid, self-ascribed, and voluntary, on the other hand, doesn't do justice to ethnic groups that have experienced force segregation, exclusion, and domination usually associated with race
8. There is no clear-cut line between ethnosomatic and other types of ethnicity that would justify establishing entirely separate objects of analysis to be addressed with different analytic tools

Brubaker, Loveman and Stamatov (2004)- Instead of asking "what is race?", "what is an ethnic group", "what is a nation?", a cognitive approach encourages us to ask how, when, and why people interpret social experience in racial, ethnic, or national terms.
Wacquant (1997) Why Distinction is bad
Wacquant 1997- One problem is the conflating of folk and analytic concepts of race. This is visible in the categories we use, namely, the scientifically inept but socially powerful differentiation between "race" and "ethnicity," in how we organize our inquiries by reference to groups as they appear in the official taxonomies of the state; and in the structure of each national social scientific field, wherein "race" is alternatively dissolved under another rubric, coupled with germane issues, or set apart for special examination. The concept of "race" is too porous. It contains and conveys all of the ambiguities, instabilities, and contradictions of folk taxonomies and of the manifold (and oft untold) histories of classification struggles. Social scientists have accepted a folk concept, and evaluated the US 20th century preconstruction of "race" as a basic yardstick by which to measure all instances of ethnoracial subordination and inequality. Race cannot be both object and tool of analysis. Argues against Banton. Banton argues forcefully in favor of granting analytic status to the concept of race on the grounds that 1) try as they may, sociologists simply cannot disentangle themselves from it; 2) social science concepts ought to be continuous with commonsense ones. Wacquant says this is surrender before waging battle.
Loveman (1999) Why distinction is bad
Loveman (1999)- The position that "race" and "ethnicity" are analytically distinct thus reflects the ingrained North American bias in the sociology of "race." Commonsense understandings of these categories as they exist in the United States are elevated to the status of social scientific concepts. The particular (and particularly arbitrary) operation of "race" versus "ethnicity" in the United States is thus treated as the norm, from which other modalities of categorization are considered to be deviations (Bourdieu and Wacquant 1999). Historically specific differences between the meaning and operation of "race" and "ethnicity" as systems of categorization in practice in one society cannot be the foundation for a general and generalizable analytical distinction between "race" and "ethnicity." Asserting the unique ontological status of "race" may actually undermine attempts to improve understanding of the operation and consequences of "race," "racism," and "racial domination," in different times and places. The arbitrary theoretical isolation of "race" from "ethnicity" discourages the comparative research needed to discover what, if anything is unique about the operation or consequences of "race" as an essentializing racial category, as opposed to other categorization schemes that naturalize social differences between human beings.
Brubaker (2002) Why distinction is bade
Brubaker (2002)- Groupism- the tendency to take discrete, sharply differentiated, internally homogenous and externally bounded groups as basic constituents of social life, chief protagonists of social conflicts, and fundamental units of social analysis. In the domain of ethnicity, nationalism and race, groupism. Is the tendency to treat ethnic groups, nation as and races as substantial entities to which interests and agency can be attributed. We should not adopt categories of ethnopolitical practice as our categories of social analysis. This means thinking of ethnicity; race and nation not in terms of substantial groups or entities but in terms of practical categories, cultural idioms, cognitive schemas, discursive frames, organizational routines, institutional forms, political projects and contingent events. It means thinking of ethnicization, racialization, and nationalization as political, social, cultural and psychological processes. And it means taking as basic analytic category not the 'group' as an entity but groupness as a contextually fluctuating conceptual variable. By distinguishing consistently between categories and groups, we can problematize—rather than presume—the relation between them.
How is race socially constructed? That is, through what sorts of social processes do racial and ethnic boundaries get created and reproduced?

Brubaker, Loveman & Stamatov (2004)
Brubaker, Loveman & Stamatov (2004) -Race, ethnicity, and nationality are constructed through cognition. They exist only in and through our perceptions, interpretations, representations, classifications, categorizations, and identifications. They are not things in the word, but perspectives on the world—not ontological but epistemological realities. The cognitive processes and mechanisms underlying these ways of seeing are identical throughout the larger domain. The processes of classification and categorization, formal and informal, that divide "us" from "them"; the forms of social closure that depend on categorizing and excluding certain potential competitors as "outsiders"; the categories and frames in terms of which social comparison and social explanation are organized; the schemas, scripts, and cultural models that allow one to perceive, experience, or interpret situations and sequences of action in standardized racial, ethnic, or national terms; the cognitive biases in the retrieval and processing of information that lead us to evaluate evidence in selective ways that tend to confirm prior expectations and strengthen stereotypes—all of these and many more cognitive and socio-cognitive mechanisms and processes are involved in essentially similar forms in phenomena conventionally coded as belonging to distinct domains of race, ethnicity, and nationalism.


Brubaker, Loveman, Stamatov (2004) - A cognitive perspective focuses our analytic lens on how people see the world, parse their experience, and interpret events. This raises a different and broader set of questions about racial, ethnic, and national categorization. The relevant questions are not only about how people get classified, but about how gestures, utterances, situations, events, states of affairs, actions, and sequences of actions get classified (and thereby interpreted and experienced). The questions, in short, are about seeing the world and interpreting social experience, not simply about classifying social actors, in ethnic terms. The schema concept can help elucidate and concretize this notion of ethnic "ways of seeing."
Mechanisms of social construction

Bourdieu (1991) and Brubaker (2002)
Bourdieu (1991)- ethnopolitical entrepreneurs, contribute to producing what they apparently describe or designate

Brubaker (2002)- framing may be a key mechanism through which groupness is constructed. Certain dramatic events can serve to galvanize and crystalize a potential group or ratchet up pre-existing levels of groupness
How is this related to the ways sociologists measure or operationalize race and ethnicity? Is there any tension between the social constructivist understanding of race and ethnicity and the way these concepts are typically operationalized in sociological research?

Saperstein and Penner (2012)
Saperstein and Penner (2012)- While the consensus position among contemporary sociologists is that race is socially constructed (American Sociological Association 2003), in practice, racial fluidity is assumed to fall outside the purview of most empirical analyses of inequality in the United States.

Studies examining racial inequality in a particular era sometimes acknowledge the social construction of race in the abstract while still treating as given that period's racial categories and the sorting of individuals into those categories. Indeed, standard practice in quantitative research assumes that one's race is set at birth and predates one's life chances (Zuberi 2000). Similarly, though recent qualitative research has done much to illuminate how people draw racial boundaries between themselves and others (e.g., Waters 1999; Lacy 2004), these efforts are generally focused on a particular population at a given point in time. As such, this body of work does not speak to processes of fluidity and inequality that have the potential to generate changes across typically defined racial lines. Qualitative researchers also often, if inadvertently, treat membership in any given racial population as an underlying fixed characteristic (Morris 2007).
Problem with methods of work that says it is constructivist

Brubaker and Cooper (2000)
Brubaker and Cooper (2000)-we often find an uneasy amalgam of constructivist language and essentialist argumentation. This is not a matter of intellectual sloppiness. Rather, it reflects the dual orientation of many academics as both analysts and protagonists of identity politics. It reflects the tension between the constructivist language that is required by academic correctness and the foundationalist or essentialist message this is required if appeals to "identity" are to be effective in practice. The solution is not in a more consistent constructivism: for it is not clear why what is routinely characterized as multiple, fragmented, and fluid should be conceptualized as "identity" at all. If you want to examine the meanings and significance people give to constructs of "race," "ethnicity," and "nationality," you do not gain anything by aggregating them under the flattening rubric of identity.
Problem with methods of work that says it is constructivist

Wimmer (2008)
Many authors assume, rather than demonstrate, that an ethnic category represents an actor with a single purpose and shared outlook. Such ontological collectivism overlooks, however, that ethnic categories may shift contextually and that there might be substantial disagreement among individuals over which ones are the most appropriate and relevant ethnic labels (Wimmer 2008).

Wimmer (2008)- asks us to instead focus on group making in the weberian-sense. To study ethnicity as the outcome of a political and symbolic struggle over the categorical divisions of society. And finally, to analyze how institutions provide incentives for actors to draw certain types of boundaries—ethnic rather than class or gender, for example—and to emphasize certain levels of ethnic differentiation rather than others.
Wimmer (2008) 5 Boundary Processes
Distinguishes between 5 types of boundaries:
1. Those that seek to establish a new boundary by expanding the range of people included
2. Those that aim at reducing the range of the included by contracting boundaries
3. Those that seek to change the meaning of an existing boundary by challenging the hierarchical ordering of ethnic categories
4. Those that attempt crossing a boundary by changing one's own categorical membership
5. Those that aim to overcome ethnic boundaries by emphasizing others, ethnic blurring
Do models which attempt to explain ethnic stratification and mobilization work just as well for racial groups? Or do we need separate models to explain racial stratification and mobilization? Cite specific literature in your answer.
As Wimmer (2008) illustrates, we do not need separate models for ethnic stratification and mobilization and racial stratification and mobilization. Wimmer proposes a multilevel process model to capture how institutional environments, the distribution of power, and networks of political alliances shape variation in strategies of ethnoracial boundary-making—expansion, contraction, hierarchical reordering, crossing, and blurring—as well as variation in the outcomes of those strategies (Brubaker 2009).