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What We Now Know About Race and Ethnicity

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What We Now Know About Race and Ethnicity

Michael Banton

178 pages, bibliog., index

ISBN  978-1-78238-603-2 $99.00/£70.00 Hb Published (October 2015)

ISBN  978-1-78238-717-6 $29.95/£21.00 Pb Published (October 2015)

eISBN 978-1-78238-613-1 eBook

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“Banton’s s book is very thought-provoking: it made me think harder about the theoretical aspects of race and ethnicity than most books I have read recently on the topic. His willingness to challenge taken-for-granted theoretical stances is very bracing. There is also a lot of interesting information in this concise book, including material on the history of race and ethnicity studies that is highly relevant to understanding the field, but is often overlooked these days. His impressive mastery of the field gives readers a very informative and synthetic long and broad view, along with a coherent critique, which while it engages specialist academic also suits the book for an undergraduate audience.” · Anthropos


Attempts of nineteenth-century writers to establish “race” as a biological concept failed after Charles Darwin opened the door to a new world of knowledge. Yet this word already had a place in the organization of everyday life and in ordinary English language usage. This book explains how the idea of race became so important in the USA, generating conceptual confusion that can now be clarified. Developing an international approach, it reviews references to “race,” “racism,” and “ethnicity” in sociology, anthropology, philosophy, and comparative politics and identifies promising lines of research that may make it possible to supersede misleading notions of race in the social sciences.

Michael Banton taught social anthroplogy in the University of Edinburgh 1954-65; political science in the Massachusetts Institute of Technology 1962-63; and sociology in the University of Bristol 1965-92. He was President of the Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland 1987-89, and from 1986 to 2001 a member of the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (Chairman, 1996-98).

Subject: Sociology General Anthropology

Related Video

A survey of Michael Banton's life and work at Edinburgh and elsewhere, including extensive work on race relations. Banton speaks of various people including Shils, Popper and Gellner. The interview, filmed by Alan Macfarlane, lasts around an hour. The sound is poor due to a defective microphone. Generously supported by the Leverhulme Trust.



Introduction: The Paradox

Chapter 1. The Scientific Sources of the Paradox

  • Two dimensions
  • Taxonomy
  • Typology
  • Darwin and Mendel
  • Two Vocabularies
  • The Power of the Ordinary Language Construct

Chapter 2. The Political Sources of the Paradox

  • Social Categories and Their Names
  • After the Civil War
  • Discrimination
  • The ‘One-Drop’ Rule
  • Counter Trends

Chapter 3. International Pragmatism

  • The Racial Convention
  • Implementing the Convention
  • Other International Action
  • Naming the Categories

Chapter 4. Sociological Knowledge

  • Theoretical or Practical?
  • The Chicago School
  • In World Perspective
  • Social Race?

Chapter 5. Conceptions of Racism

  • Writing History
  • Teaching Philosophy
  • Teaching Sociology
  • Sociological Textbooks
  • Political Ends

Chapter 6. Ethnic Origin and Ethnicity

  • Census categories
  • Anthropology
  • A New Reality?
  • Nomenclature
  • Sociobiology
  • Ethnic Origin as a Social Sign
  • Comparative Politics
  • The Current Sociology of Ethnicity

Chapter 7. Collective Action

  • The Rediscovery of Weber’s 1911 Notes
  • Four Propositions
  • Closure
  • The Human Capital Variable
  • The Colour Variable
  • Ethnic Preferences
  • Opening relationships

Conclusion: The Paradox Resolved

Select Bibliography

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