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Race and Social Analysis.

Race and Social Analysis. Caroline Knowles. London/New Delhi/Thousand Oaks: Sage, 2003. 221 pp. $32.95 US sc; $84.95 US hc.

This book takes a materialist approach in examining the practical aspects of negotiating race and ethnicity in everyday life. Knowles's analysis is grounded in the actions and accomplishments of people in time and place. While contemporary social analysis tends to focus on narrative--what people say and how things are presented--the author argues that the focus should also be on practice--what people do while engaging in "race-making practices." Knowles is interested how things are made; how ethnicity/race works, and what the grammar of race is. Nevertheless, discourse, narrative, and symbolism are important because they are gateways to accessing the material: it is people who give substance and meaning to racial categories in their daily lives, and it is people who verbally articulate or interpret cumulative (racialized) experiences. For Knowles, it is also important to state that, while subjectivity is pivotal in race-making, it is the social interface that renders the operational aspects of racism visible.

Drawing on Mills and his "sociological imagination," Knowles is concerned with capturing the particular in social processes while still seeing the connections with larger social landscapes. Ultimately, her social analysis is concerned with practice, daily acts of living in our immediate surroundings. By introducing a few vignettes, the author reminds us that race and ethnicity are all around us, shaping the global order in which we live. She reflects on the destiny of people living their lives with the prospect of death, who arrive at "our gates" as asylum seekers making claims for "our resources" and challenging what we have come to take for granted as "our rights." The mundane process of negotiating the right to coexist (in the context of G8 countries, in particular) often renders race and ethnicity visible (p. 3).

The material is well-organized and approachable, and would make an excellent resource for teaching undergraduate social science courses dealing with race and ethnicity. At the end of each chapter, there is a brief summary with a glossary of main terms and a list of resources used. The writing style is direct and is accompanied by ample examples and personal reflections. The author's 'I' is decidedly present in the text. One can almost envision being in the midst of a lively debate regarding, for example, interpretations of racialized lived-experiences, as in William Kaffe's case. Through such tangible examples, it is easy to envision how we are all affected by the intersections of race and ethnicity in our daily lives.

Neither does Knowles lose the macro/micro perspective, reminding us that race is simultaneously very personal and built into societal structures. While she considers the macro perspective useful for understanding racial inequalities and the mechanics of division, the downside to this approach is a lack of understanding of the operation of human agency in the reproduction of race.

This brings us to the theoretical and methodological foregrounding of her analysis. In the introductory chapter, Knowles places people in the center of her analysis by discussing contemporary meanings of subjectivity--What does it mean to be a person in today's world? Subjectivity is about the forms of personhood available to us and about the ways in which the outside world impacts our sense of self (p. 31). She draws from a number of authors ranging from constructivist psychologists to Taylor and Boundillard and examines the compositional and relational aspects of subjectivities. To be a person is to subscribe to certain versions of how life should be lived; to know who you are is to be oriented in a moral space (Taylor). Drawing on Shotter, she discusses relational aspects, as opposed to representational acts. The narratives through which selves are told are ongoing acts of invention rather than acts of representation; the selves made by these means have no permanent essence, they are always in the process of becoming (p. 35). Accordingly, the production of race and ethnicity is an open and ongoing process of negotiation. Boudrillard's (as well as Butler and Foucault's) interpretation of subjectivity and personhood as defined via agency are integral to materialist approaches to race and ethnicity. Subjection consists of dependency on a discourse we never choose that paradoxically initiates and sustains human agency (for Foucault, in particular, subjection is formulated within the matrix of power). Knowles favours a balanced view in which the key point of analysis is the individual/social interface that is worked out situation by situation.

In discussing theories of ethnicity Knowles again emphasizes transactional or relational aspects. Drawing on Barth, Cohen, and more recently, Rapport, she highlights the situational model of ethnicity and the significance of the boundary-making process for the construction of otherness. Goffman's dramaturgical conception of self as dialogically constituted in the acts of performance is also useful for her interpretation of race and ethnicity.

In subsequent chapters Knowles grounds subjectivity into autobiographical narratives, asking what individual life stories can teach us about race. She skillfully describes how individuals can be affected differently by the same set of circumstances. While some, for example, W. Kaffe, are lethally wounded by racism, others devise more or less successful coping mechanisms and are able to survive, seemingly unaffected, the cumulative effects of racism. She looks at key mechanisms that focus on processes of globalization and migration. She points out that it is race that is at the heart of the globalization debate--an often overlooked fact.

The last two chapters deal with what she calls the "global calibration of race and ethnicity": the social movement side of globalization; routines of movement and dwelling; belonging and displacement; circumstances of arrival and departure; individual migration stories; social mechanisms of race-making involved in the production of Whiteness within the postcolonial landscape. Knowles concludes that race/ethnicity-making mechanisms are minute social processes bound up with the ordinary activity of living and being who we are in today's world.

Edit Petrovic

Independent Scholar

Email: editp@shaw.ca
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Author:Petrovic, Edit
Publication:Canadian Ethnic Studies Journal
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Mar 22, 2005
Words:995
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