In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Race and Ethnicity

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Textbooks
  • Anthologies
  • Reference Works
  • Journals
  • Public Policy
  • Geography
  • History
  • Music
  • Sport
  • Urban Sociology
  • Youth Work

Childhood Studies Race and Ethnicity
Anoop Nayak
  • LAST REVIEWED: 12 April 2019
  • LAST MODIFIED: 23 March 2012
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199791231-0113


It is widely accepted that race is a fictitious category used to divide the human population in ways that may benefit some at the expense of others. Despite appeals to a common humanity, many people continue to give meaning to the fallacy of race to the extent that it remains a central organizing principle in modern society. Ethnicity, on the other hand, refers to the cultural habits of a particular group such as language, diet, music, rituals, pastimes, family, and kinship relations. Importantly, ethnicity is practiced in diverse ways and is not an unchanging, fixed, or bounded category. Appropriately, the work cited here approaches race and ethnicity as fluid and unstable categories in the lives of children and young people. It asks a set of critical questions, such as: How do children and young people view race? What difference does ethnicity make to childhood and youth? What role does racism and anti-racism play in young lives? Is race still a valuable concept for understanding future generations who are living in a rapidly globalizing, multicultural environment? As this entry demonstrates, race and ethnicity are ever-present in young lives and afford important ways for understanding children and young people’s transitions into adulthood.

General Overviews

There are very few specific overviews, anthologies, reference works, or textbooks on race, children, and young people. However, there are a number of key volumes addressing the topic of race and ethnicity that offer benchmark publications from which those working in the fields of children and youth can draw on. The best of this work is characterized by an ability to carefully distinguish among different theoretical approaches to the topic and provide conceptual clarity on terms such as race, racism, ethnicity, anti-racism, and multiculturalism. Although not without criticism, Miles 1989, on racism; Banton 1987, an account of racial theories; and Malik 1996, which examines the emergence of the term race, each offer clear definitions of race terminology. Solomos 1993 explores the politics of race in postwar Britain and Europe, showing how the issue of migration is taken up by the state. These ideas are further elaborated in Gilroy 1995, which demonstrates that when the question of race and immigration appears in political debate, it is always construed as a problem. For Gilroy this problematic representation comes to define black youth in post-imperial Britain. Toward the end of the 1990s, other work such as Solomos and Back 1996 (cited under Textbooks) and later Mac an Ghaill 1999 began to develop nuanced understandings of race and ethnicity, largely inspired by the post-structuralist readings of identity evident across the arts, humanities, and social sciences. Together, this body of work offers a useful means for understanding how terms such as race and racism are deployed and come to take on new meaning over time.

  • Banton, Michael. Racial Theories. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1987.

    NNNThis book outlines various understandings of race including pseudo-biological readings, as well as Marxist interpretations that regard racial inequalities in a similar structural fashion to social class injustices. Although the book is no longer up to date, given recent developments in race and ethnic studies, it is an established text that provides useful insights into theories of race in France, Britain, South Africa, and the United States.

  • Gilroy, Paul. “There Ain’t No Black in the Union Jack”: The Cultural Politics of Race and Nation. London: Routledge, 1995.

    NNNFirst published in 1987 by Unwin Hyman, this classic book was the first of its kind to argue that blackness and Britishness were not mutually exclusive categories, especially for second-generation migrants. In this sense, Ain’t No Black paved the way for new understandings of the intersections between race, ethnicity, and national identity with some insightful critiques of left-wing anti-racism.

  • Mac an Ghaill, Mairtin. Contemporary Racisms and Ethnicities: Social and Cultural Transformations. Buckingham, UK: Open University Press, 1999.

    NNNThe book introduces the reader to the changing academic and political representations of race, ethnicity, and racism. It makes a distinction between earlier material approaches to race and more recent postmodern explanations. Moving beyond black/white binaries of race, the final chapter turns to the experiences of young people as it considers the perspectives of new generations.

  • Malik, Kenan. The Meaning of Race: Race, History and Culture in Western Society. Basingstoke, UK: Macmillan, 1996.

    NNNMalik considers how the idea of race was historically popularized through forms of imperialism, colonialism, and slavery. He considers early links between science and race that were later to culminate in Nazism and the Holocaust. The author relies on a predominantly Marxist analytic framework to consider how fixed ideas of “race” and “culture” tend to arise from contradictions inherent in the system of global capital.

  • Miles, Robert. Racism. London: Routledge, 1989.

    NNNThe aim of this book is to set out a case for the continued salience of racism as a concept in sociological analysis. Miles provides a historical review of the origin and uses of the concept and an evaluation of approaches to theorize it. In particular, he explores different types of racism, including ideological, institutional, political, cultural, and economic expressions.

  • Solomos, John. Race and Racism in Britain. 2d ed. Basingstoke, UK: Macmillan, 1993.

    NNNProductively explores the sociology of race in Britain and Europe through a historical framework. Solomos turns his attention to the postwar period and the changing dynamics of race and racism being mobilized across Europe. The book contains a useful chapter outlining how black youth were constructed as “muggers” and racially confined to “their” allotted space in the inner city.

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