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Toward a New Racial Studies: Revivifying the Sociology of Race in the 21st Century

Presented by Howard Winant (UC-Santa Barbara)

What is our understanding of the significance of race in the post-civil rights, post-apartheid, post-colonial era? Enormous transformations have occurred since the end of WWII in racial mobility (both geographic and socioeconomic), in racial politics, and indeed in the racial "common-sense" -- the cultural systems of racial representation -- that operate across much of the world. Yet for all these shifts the fundamental continuity of racial dynamics has not been seriously altered: racial inequality persists both locally and globally to a staggering degree and with dreadful social consequences; racial politics still rules from Quito to Capetown, from San Diego to the Sudan, from Urumci (Chinese Turkestan) to East Jerusalem. This situation cries out for sociological innovation, both as an effort to clarify and advance scholarly work on race, and as an intervention we "engaged" researchers are obligated to make in the arena of policy.

A new racial studies would not repudiate past work, sociological or otherwise, on race matters; indeed it would base itself on that legacy. It would, however, seek to advance beyond previous analyses in order to grasp the dynamics and significance of race and racism in the 21st century.

In this presentation I will draw attention to five key problems or contradictions: (1)Nonracialism vs. Race Consciousness; (2)Racial Genomics; (3)The Nation and its Peoples: Citizens, Denizens, Migrants; (4)Race/Gender/Class "Intersectionality"; and (5)The Trajectory of Empire: Race, and Neoconservatism. I propose a radical pragmatist approach to these complex problems, one which recognizes the ineluctable link between racialized experience and racialized social structure. The racial reformism attempted in various sociopolitical settings after WWII (US civil rights, South African "nonracialism," European racial "differentialism," Brazilian "racial democracy," etc.) could not be consolidated, largely because racial rule is essential to rule itself. Therefore the imperatives of racial domination have tended to overwhelm those of inclusion and incorporation.

The presentation will conclude with a preliminary set of programmatic ideas for racial justice-oriented movements in the 21st century.