In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Race, Organizations, and Movements

  • Introduction
  • Defining Race
  • Blackness, Slavery, and the Racial State
  • Investigating Race within Organizations
  • How Race Shapes Organizations and Fields
  • Race and Knowledge Production
  • Race and Institutions of Mobility
  • Higher Education as a Racially Segregated Space
  • How Movements Shape Organizations
  • Whiteness as an Analytic Category
  • Black Social Movements
  • Interracial Movements

Sociology Race, Organizations, and Movements
Melissa E. Wooten
  • LAST REVIEWED: 26 February 2020
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 February 2020
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756384-0237


Although they developed distinct of one another, there is a growing trend to combine insights from the race, organizations, and movement literatures. In particular, scholars have called for a greater emphasis on incorporating race as a category of analysis within the organizations and movement literatures. Among those studying organizations, one of the earliest calls for this shift came from within the managerial literature. Those heeding this call have primarily investigated race as an individual level characteristic that structures people’s access to and opportunities within organizations. Still, others have sought to analyze how race as a social structural characteristic shapes organizational development and the distribution of resources available to organizations. Similar to organization studies, initially, scholarship on social movements lacked a clear emphasis on race. Although, the irony here is that many scholars derived theoretical innovations within the social movement literature by analyzing movements centering racial justice. Recent scholarship holds that in the absence of clear racial theory, whiteness shapes the discipline to its detriment. Despite the broader concerns about the literature’s state, work within this area consistently emphasizes how people use social movement tactics to advance racial projects from civil rights to white supremacy. Few studies tackle all three themes at once. More often scholars situate their analysis at the intersection of race and organizations or race and movements. At times, scholars situate their investigation squarely within one literature, leaving it to the reader to pull out the themes from the others. The bibliography reflects this reality and tension. There is no singular text or handbook that brings together research on race, organizations, and movements. Yet, the research included within this bibliography deepens our understanding of the role that organizations and movements play in reinforcing and creating racial hierarchy and how racial hierarchy, in turn, shapes these entities.

Defining Race

Scholars aiming to incorporate race as a category of analysis within organizations and movements research rely on and extend existing definitions. As Morning 2011 argues, there is no agreed upon definition of race and the research at the intersection of race, organizations, and movements mirrors this diversity. Emirbayer and Desmond 2015, coupled with Golash-Boza 2016, provides a well-rounded overview of the major challenges to theorizing race within sociological research. Omi and Winant 2015, Rodriguez 2000, Paschel 2016, and Gans 2017 offer a starting point for anyone examining how organizations and movements contribute to the development of racial categories. Loveman 2014 provides insight into why states take on the task of distinguishing citizens by race. Bonilla-Silva 2014 helps explain how actors within organizations and movements naturalize the absence of racial minority group members. Additionally, Loveman 2014 and Paschel 2016 offer insight into racial formation outside of the United States by focusing on the Latin American context.

  • Bonilla-Silva, Eduardo. 2014. Racism without racists: Color-blind racism and the persistence of racial inequality in America. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield.

    This is the fourth edition of Bonilla-Silva’s tome on race in America. First published in 2003, the core argument that color-blind racism is a mechanism that explains both white people’s insistence that race does not matter and the persistent racial inequality experienced by people of color. Bonilla-Silva has updated the book to engage contemporary issues including Barack Obama’s ascendency (third edition). The fifth edition was released in 2017.

  • Emirbayer, Mustafa, and Matthew Desmond. 2015. The racial order. Chicago: The Univ. of Chicago Press.

    DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226253664.001.0001

    The authors argue that theoretical knowledge about and empirical research on race have developed unevenly. They seek to provide a theoretical framework for thinking and talking about the racial order. To do so, they incorporate insights from Durkheim to situate race as a collective representation that is socially, rather than biologically real while drawing on Bourdieu to understand race as a field of practice.

  • Gans, Herbert J. 2017. Racialization and racialization research. Ethnic and Racial Studies 40.3: 341–352.

    DOI: 10.1080/01419870.2017.1238497

    The paper investigates racialization as a process that has a beginning and end while laying out a series of questions that must be answered before we can understand how categories emerge and their effect. Who starts the process? Are there formal or informal racializing organizations? What characteristics differentiate groups? When does deracialization occur? Tentative answers to these and other questions are given while providing paths that future scholars might follow.

  • Golash-Boza, Tanya. 2016. A critical and comprehensive sociological theory of race and racism. Sociology of Race and Ethnicity 2.2: 129–141.

    DOI: 10.1177/2332649216632242

    Golash-Boza contests claims that sociology lacks comprehensive theory of race and racism that scholars such as Emirbayer and Desmond, Bonilla-Silva, Omi, and Winant have put forth. The paper weaves together theories on racist ideology coupled with those on racist structures at the micro and macro levels into one analytic framework to argue that sociology has all the tools it needs to deconstruct race and racism.

  • Loveman, Mara. 2014. National colors: Racial classification and the state in Latin America. London: Oxford Univ. Press.

    DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199337354.001.0001

    The book investigates why and how states classify citizens by race. States can use official ethnoracial classifications to distinguish citizens as is the case in the contemporary United States. Other states opt for indirect techniques decoupled from official administrative systems to make racial distinctions. Latin American nations provide an empirical setting to dissect why states that made no legal distinctions between citizens based on race still constructed racial classification schemes.

  • Morning, Ann. 2011. The nature of race. Berkeley: Univ. of California Press.

    DOI: 10.1525/california/9780520270305.001.0001

    Morning begins from the premise that what “race” means often goes unstated despite the fact that we are called to identify ourselves with particular racial groups and that race is said to shape economic, social, and medical outcomes. The investigation examines what scientists make of race, how schools transmit scientific ideals of race, and how students react to these ideals. The mixed methods study relies on interviews with anthropology and biology professors who study race and undergraduate students coupled with an analysis of social and biological science textbooks.

  • Omi, Michael, and Howard Winant. 2015. Racial formation in the United States: From the 1960s to the 1990s. New York: Routledge & Kegan Paul.

    First published in 1986, the authors explore how race shapes identities and institutions. The book aims to show the centrality of race in American politics. In doing so, the authors put forth a theory of racial formation that dissects the conflicts that produce racial categories and scripts at the micro and macro levels. This book is useful to scholars searching for a definition of race that centers social structure and for its explication of racial projects as ideological efforts to organize and distribute resources along racial lines.

  • Paschel, Tianna S. 2016. Becoming black political subjects: Movements and ethno-racial rights in Colombia and Brazil. Princeton, NJ: Princeton Univ. Press.

    This book examines political transformations in Colombia and Brazil that resulted in formal state recognition of blackness as a legitimate category. This book offers a useful counterpart to many of the works on this list that focus on mass-based protest movements pushing for change. Paschel’s cases highlight the work of small, underresourced movement actors that remained largely unknown to the wider public yet still succeeded in pushing for political inclusion.

  • Rodriguez, Clara E. 2000. Changing race: Latinos, the census, and the history of ethnicity in the United States. New York: New York Univ. Press.

    This book offers a useful analysis of the race and ethnicity as socially constructed, related, and yet distinct concepts. The variability of ethnic identity and its relationship to the political and economic milieu is the focus. Government classification of people as members of one group or another provides a window into the shifting ideas about who belongs to a particular group and why.

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