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Racial Conditions

Politics, Theory, Comparisons

1994
Author:

Howard Winant

Racial Conditions

More than a quarter-century after the passage of civil rights legislation in the United States and decades since the last European colonies attained their independence, race continues to play a central role in cultural, political, and economic life, both in the United States and around the globe. Howard Winant argues that race cannot be understood as a “social problem” or as a “survival” of earlier, more benighted ages. Indeed, from the rise of Europe to the present, race has been a social condition, a permanent though flexible feature of human society and identity. Among the topics discussed are the relationship between race and class, as well as the racial dimensions of gender, diaspora, colonialism, and fascism. Other key topics include the changing nature of racial identity in the post-civil rights era, the 1992 Los Angeles riot, and politics of race in Brazil.

More than a quarter-century after the passage of civil rights legislation in the United States and decades since the last European colonies attained their independence, race continues to play a central role in cultural, political, and economic life, both in the United States and around the globe. Howard Winant argues that race cannot be understood as a “social problem” or as a “survival” of earlier, more benighted ages. Indeed, from the rise of Europe to the present, race has been a social condition, a permanent though flexible feature of human society and identity. Among the topics discussed are the relationship between race and class, as well as the racial dimensions of gender, diaspora, colonialism, and fascism. Other key topics include the changing nature of racial identity in the post-civil rights era, the 1992 Los Angeles riot, and politics of race in Brazil.

Howard Winant is one of the deepest thinkers about race writing in the U.S. today. Here he extends his racial formation perspective, the view that in modern societies race must be seen as an ever-changing complex of meanings shaped by sociopolitical conflict, in several novel directions. First, he develops a devastating critique of the declining-significance-of-race nonsense so widespread in U.S. intellectual and policy circles since the late 1970s. He argues convincingly that race remains pervasive as an everyday reality at all micro- and macro sociological levels of U.S. society. Secondly, Winant moves to a probing global analysis of racialization and racial meaning, an argument supported by an innovative comparison of race relations in the United States and Brazil, the world’s two largest multiracial societies. In Winant’s view European racializing predated fifteenth century colonialism, yet the long process of that European colonialism has made race and racism permanent features of otherwise divergent societies across much of the globe, even as we approach the twenty-first century.

Joe Feagin, UF Graduate Research Professor of Sociology, University of Florida

More than a quarter-century after the passage of civil rights legislation in the United States and decades since the last European colonies attained their independence, race continues to play a central role in cultural, political, and economic life, both in the United States and around the globe. Race divides societies and individuals, shapes social policies of the most diverse sort, and organizes basic ideas about human identity and difference. Why?
This ambitious book addresses the gaps in our understanding of contemporary racial dynamics, and develops a powerful theoretical approach to the vast subject of race. Howard Winant, one of the leading writers in the United States on the subject, argues that race cannot be understood as a "social problem" or as a "survival" of earlier, more benighted ages. Indeed, from the rise of Europe to the present, race has been a social condition, a permanent though flexible feature of human society and identity.
The key to Winant's analysis is racial formation theory, an approach he refines and advances as he considers a wide range of contemporary controversies in racial theory and politics. Among these are the relationship between race and class, as well as the racial dimensions of gender, diaspora, colonialism, and fascism. Other key topics include the changing nature of racial identity in the post-civil rights era, the 1992 Los Angeles riot, and politics of race in Brazil.
Intellectually challenging and clearly written, well informed and deeply committed to social and racial justice, Racial Conditions marks an important advance in critical thinking about race today.

Howard Winant teaches sociology at Temple University.

Racial Conditions

Howard Winant teaches sociology at Temple University, and is co-author with Michael Omi of Racial Formation in the United States from the 1960's to the 1980's.

Racial Conditions

Howard Winant is one of the deepest thinkers about race writing in the U.S. today. Here he extends his racial formation perspective, the view that in modern societies race must be seen as an ever-changing complex of meanings shaped by sociopolitical conflict, in several novel directions. First, he develops a devastating critique of the declining-significance-of-race nonsense so widespread in U.S. intellectual and policy circles since the late 1970s. He argues convincingly that race remains pervasive as an everyday reality at all micro- and macro sociological levels of U.S. society. Secondly, Winant moves to a probing global analysis of racialization and racial meaning, an argument supported by an innovative comparison of race relations in the United States and Brazil, the world’s two largest multiracial societies. In Winant’s view European racializing predated fifteenth century colonialism, yet the long process of that European colonialism has made race and racism permanent features of otherwise divergent societies across much of the globe, even as we approach the twenty-first century.

Joe Feagin, UF Graduate Research Professor of Sociology, University of Florida

"Winant's large contribution is to place race at the center of social inquiry, thus breaking with the traditions which have treated race and racism as merely derivative of some larger dynamic of domination and conflict. The result is an immensely illuminating and theoretically sophisticated book, that speaks directly to the problem of understanding the racial politics of the United States and the emerging global order." Frances Fox Piven

In this bold attempt to reconceptualize the study of race, Winant offers an impressive theoretical context and applies it with great skill to a comparative analysis of the U.S. and Brazil. Scholars of both countries will find it stimulating.

Thomas E. Skidmore, Brown University

Racial Conditions offers a brilliant neo-pluralist synthesis of the rich body of thinking that has evolved over the past 50 years to explain the tenacious persistence of racial -caste patterns in modern social systems. From the astute conceptual vantage point that Winant calls “racial formation perspective,” interplay of racialization and class patterns-arguments that range broadly across the social sciences and humanities, from the works of historians like Barbara Fields and George Frederickson on the United States, historian Carl Degler on Brazil, to sociologists like William Julius Wilson on the United States and Carlos Hasenbalg on Brazil. For Winant, the tenacity of racialization is located in its unique serviceability to hegemonic strata (whether elite, middle-class, or proletarian) under modernist conditions which perpetually threaten anointed status boundaries. Both professional analysts of racial-caste patterns and students will relish Racial Conditions.

Martin Kilson, Frank G. Thomson Professor of Government, Harvard University

The book’s excellent organization and clarity recommend it to lay as well as academic readers. Those who wonder why race continues to be such an important factor in social life of its purported demise will find Winant’s account stimulating. This book is imperative reading for all those interested in race relations, historical-comparative analyses, stratification, or politics. Winant’s brilliantly crafted and persuasive rebuttal to those who argue for the declining significance of race is highly original in its integration of historical and contemporary evidence to the contrary.

Social Hierarchies

A collection of superbly crafted essays by Howard Winant. A seminal and critically important work of impeccable scholarship which is an invaluable contribution to academic library reading lists.

The Midwest Book Review