In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section African Americans

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Classic Works
  • Journals
  • Lower-Income Class Culture and Social Experience
  • Middle- and Upper-Class Culture and Social Experience
  • Community Studies
  • Education
  • Employment, Labor Markets, and Stratification
  • Family
  • Men and Masculinity
  • Social Protest and Activism
  • Urban Poverty
  • Women and Feminism

Sociology African Americans
Alford A. Young, Jr.
  • LAST REVIEWED: 29 October 2013
  • LAST MODIFIED: 29 October 2013
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756384-0040


African Americans have been the focus of wide-ranging studies in sociology for more than a century. Research on this group has been central to the formation of the sociological subfields of race and ethnic relations, urban sociology, and the sociology of identity. In these and other subfields, sociologists have explored how African Americans experienced the transition from the rural South to northeastern and midwestern urban-based communities (occurring from the early to the mid-20th century during a period labeled the Great Migration), how and why they engaged in social protest activities during the late 1950s and 1960s, and how they have experienced and confronted the increasing poverty and socioeconomic despair that unfolded in American cities since the middle of the 20th century. Sociologists also have explored the social identity of African Americans as that identity has been transformed since the mid-20th century and as it has affected, and been affected by, intellectual and political transformations in multiraciality, gender, sexual orientation, and other identities.

General Overviews

These works explore the analytical designs and approaches taken in sociology to the study of African Americans. They document the role that the early Chicago School of sociology played in situating African Americans as a focal point for sociological investigation (Lyman 1972), critically assess the possibilities and pitfalls of the commitment of traditional sociology to the melting pot thesis as a vision for the prospects of African Americans (McKee 1993), and outline new perspectives on thinking about race and racism as properties of American society (Winant 2000). They also explore the effects of the early- to mid-20th-century migration of African Americans to the urban communities that became the geographic landscape that undergirded much of the sociological analysis of African Americans in the late 20th century (Tolnay 2003) and assess how immigration has affected the public identities attached to, and the experiences of, African Americans in the 20th century (Lieberson 1980). Alba and Nee 2005 explores the processes of post-1965 immigration to the United States by people of color.

  • Alba, Richard, and Victor Nee. 2005. Remaking the American mainstream: Assimilation and contemporary immigration. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Univ. Press.

    The authors explore the processes of post-1965 immigration to the United States by people of color. Among other objectives, they provide sociological tools to understand how and why, within a few generations of their arrival, members of certain groups were more or less identified with African Americans either racially or culturally.

  • Lieberson, Stanley. 1980. A piece of the pie: Blacks and white immigrants since 1880. Berkeley: Univ. of California Press.

    This work presents a comparative assessment of the historical socioeconomic status of African Americans and various immigrant groups since 1880, the period of Reconstruction. It depicts how and why African Americans and immigrant group members entered into, and became identified with, various occupational sectors. The work introduced comparative sociological studies of race and immigration.

  • Lyman, Stanford. 1972. The black American in sociological thought. New York: G.P. Putnam.

    Lyman argues for the centrality of the Chicago School of sociology, and Robert Park in particular, in advancing research on African Americans in the discipline. He advances assimilationism as a valid paradigm for making sense of the African American experience.

  • McKee, James B. 1993. Sociology and the race problem: The failure of a perspective. Urbana: Univ. of Illinois Press.

    This work provides an overview of sociology’s exploration of the African American community. It critiques the strong melting pot thesis that overrode much of the assessment of the capacity of African Americans to endure in a rapidly industrializing American society.

  • Tolnay, Stewart E. 2003. The African American “Great Migration” and beyond. Annual Review of Sociology 29:209–232.

    DOI: 10.1146/annurev.soc.29.010202.100009

    This review article documents the sociological literature that explores how African Americans experienced the Great Migration. It refers to literature that asserts how socioeconomic transformations associated with the modernization of industry drove African Americans to northern and midwestern urban areas while the sociopolitical oppression of the Jim Crow South drove them away from that region. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

  • Winant, Howard. 2000. Race and race theory. Annual Review of Sociology 26:169–185.

    DOI: 10.1146/annurev.soc.26.1.169

    This article provides a rich overview of the sociological theories and theses offered to interpret race in the United States. It begins with assessing the concept of race and then situates the theoretical and conceptual transformations occurring over time within the sociopolitical contexts that shaped them. Winant argues that future theorizing on race must be sensitive to historical transformations and racial politics. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

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