Sociology Race in Global Perspective
Aurora Vergara-Figueroa
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 February 2020
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756384-0239


Race and racism are key analytical constructs that express fundamental issues not only of power and inequality, but also of justice, democracy, equity, and emancipation. The study of race in the social sciences is an established, dynamic, multidisciplinary, and international field. Work began at the end of the 19th century. To study race with a global perspective, it is necessary to have a transdisciplinary view to read critically the phenomena that intersect with this variable. This field includes contributions from sociology, history, philosophy, legal studies, anthropology, cultural studies, political science, epidemiology, and journalism, among others. Several declarations have been made in recent years about the alleged end of racism or the end of a race-coded era. However, even though they are not new, every time they resurge these doxas underline new regimes of truth, reconfigure racisms, and strength inequality. The vast literature produced by scholars in this field provides evidence of how race is based on narratives created to enslave, subordinate, exploit, and exclude millions of human beings across the globe.

Theoretical Frameworks

Interpretations of how racial classification operates take several approaches. Early publications on this topic are Du Bois 1898, Park 1939, and Gunnar 1944. Du Bois 1898 outlines a research agenda to study the life conditions of African Americans. Based on the work of Du Bois, major critical frameworks have emerged. The Marxist perspective, the institutional perspective, the internal colonialism perspective, the racial formation perspective, and the racialized system approach are some of the most salient. This is discussed in Bonilla-Silva 1997. These diverse perspectives have contributed to an understanding of race as a dynamic social formation, a racial formation, as demonstrated in Omi and Winant 1994, that is historically embedded in structural inequalities, institutional settlements, and cultural frames, as stated in Cox 1948, Fanon 1967, Fegin 2006, and Steinberg 2007.

  • Bonilla-Silva, Eduardo. 1997. Rethinking racism: Toward a structural interpretation. American Sociological Review 62.3: 465–480.

    DOI: 10.2307/2657316

    This article outlines a structural theory to interpret racism. This framework serves as the foundation for his racialized social systems theory. Bonilla-Silva expands on the ideological conception of racism. This text surveys the literature, summarizes the main arguments, and makes the case for studying the role of race in the making of social systems. Available online by purchase or subscription.

  • Du Bois, W. E. B. 1898. The study of the Negro problems. Annals of the American Academy of Political Science 11: 1–23.

    DOI: 10.1177/000271629801100101

    In this pioneering article, W. E. B. Du Bois outlines a research agenda to study the life conditions of black people in the United States and in the African diaspora. The author indicates the shortcomings of the prevailing frameworks and methodological approaches. He proposes a program of study for the future with sociological, statistical, and historical dimensions.

  • Cox, Oliver C. 1948. Caste, class, and race. New York: Doubleday.

    DOI: 10.2307/272191

    This book offers a historical sociological perspective on the constructive foundation of race. Cox highlights the material connections of racial classification. In doing so, he treats race as a social system rooted in economic exploitation. Hence, he connects capitalism and racism.

  • Fanon, Frantz. 1967. Black skin, white masks. New York: Grove.

    This book invites the reader to abandon the idea that racism is a mental construction that can be confined to a single individual.

  • Fegin, Joe. 2006. Systematic racism. A theory of oppression. New York: Routledge.

    The theory of systematic racism aims to highlight the racialized dimensions of society. Fegin presents historical evidence, starting in the 17th century, in tracing dimensions where this could be observed. For example, ideologies and the overall structure of institutions designed for white enjoyment while their leaders are deaf to the claims of oppressed populations.

  • Gunnar, Myrdal. 1944. An American dilemma: The Negro problem and modern democracy. New York: Harper and Brothers.

    This book entails a collective endeavor describing the anthropological, sociological, and political aspects of the so-called Negro problem. Myrdal approaches this phenomenon as a moral issue and, as a consequence, one that goes to the heart of the American political structure. In some spheres, this book is considered as providing a leading analysis of the sociology of race in the United States.

  • Omi, Michael, and Howard Winant. 1994. Racial formation in the United States from the 1960s to the 1990s. 2d ed. New York: Routledge.

    Omi and Winant propose the racial formation theory. They offer an alternative reading to the question of how to analyze the sociohistorical problem of race. This book outlines the genealogy of racial categories in the United States. They also present the concept of racial projects to historicize the political and economic agenda that is salient at any given moment in the United States.

  • Park, Robert E. 1939. The nature of race relations. In Race relations and the race problem: A definition and an analysis. Edited by Edgar Tristram Thompson, 3–45. Durham, NC: Duke Univ. Press.

    Robert E. Park proposed the race relations approach. In this chapter, he states that racial consciousness is a marker of the distances that mark the frontier between social groups and sentiments and attitudes and that derive from their encounters.

  • Steinberg, Stephen. 2007. Race relations: A critique. Stanford, CA: Stanford Univ. Press.

    Steinberg analyzes the role of sociology and the degree to which the race relation’s paradigm has been useful. He identifies several limitations, for example, how sociology deals with race. He questions the way sociology failed to anticipate the Civil Rights movement and the “utopian vision” in understanding ethnic boundaries in society. On this point, he considers this approach as an epistemology of ignorance principally because it camouflages oppression.

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