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Racial Formation in the United States: From the 1960s to the 1990s

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First published in 1986, Racial Formation in the United States is now considered a classic in the literature on race and ethnicity. This second edition builds upon and updates Omi and Winant's groundbreaking research. In addition to a preface to the new edition, the book provides a more detailed account of the theory of racial formation processes. It includes material on t First published in 1986, Racial Formation in the United States is now considered a classic in the literature on race and ethnicity. This second edition builds upon and updates Omi and Winant's groundbreaking research. In addition to a preface to the new edition, the book provides a more detailed account of the theory of racial formation processes. It includes material on the historical development of race, the question of racism, race-class-gender interrelationships, and everyday life. A final chapter updates the developments in American racial politics up to the present, focusing on such key events as the 1992 Presidential election, the Los Angeles riots, and the Clinton administration's racial politics and policies. "…required reading for scholars engaged in historical, sociological, and cultural studies of race. In the new edition, the authors further develop their provocative theory of 'racial formation' and extend their political analyses into the 1990s. They introduce the concept of 'racial project', linking race as representation with race as it is embedded in the social structure." -- Angela Y. Davis


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First published in 1986, Racial Formation in the United States is now considered a classic in the literature on race and ethnicity. This second edition builds upon and updates Omi and Winant's groundbreaking research. In addition to a preface to the new edition, the book provides a more detailed account of the theory of racial formation processes. It includes material on t First published in 1986, Racial Formation in the United States is now considered a classic in the literature on race and ethnicity. This second edition builds upon and updates Omi and Winant's groundbreaking research. In addition to a preface to the new edition, the book provides a more detailed account of the theory of racial formation processes. It includes material on the historical development of race, the question of racism, race-class-gender interrelationships, and everyday life. A final chapter updates the developments in American racial politics up to the present, focusing on such key events as the 1992 Presidential election, the Los Angeles riots, and the Clinton administration's racial politics and policies. "…required reading for scholars engaged in historical, sociological, and cultural studies of race. In the new edition, the authors further develop their provocative theory of 'racial formation' and extend their political analyses into the 1990s. They introduce the concept of 'racial project', linking race as representation with race as it is embedded in the social structure." -- Angela Y. Davis

30 review for Racial Formation in the United States: From the 1960s to the 1990s

  1. 4 out of 5

    Andrea

    Another foundational book of racial theory, there is so much to love here. I found it immensely useful in thinking through both race and racism. I loved its focus on how things change, what was successful and what was not of the tremendous movements of the 1960s and 70s, and the how things were shaping up in the 1990s, at the moment when it was written. Such a focus is vital for those committed to action, and there is a lot to think over here in strategizing for lasting changes towards some semb Another foundational book of racial theory, there is so much to love here. I found it immensely useful in thinking through both race and racism. I loved its focus on how things change, what was successful and what was not of the tremendous movements of the 1960s and 70s, and the how things were shaping up in the 1990s, at the moment when it was written. Such a focus is vital for those committed to action, and there is a lot to think over here in strategizing for lasting changes towards some semblance of social justice. The opening is indeed a bit slow and it's a bit of work to get through the main threads of racial theory to date. Important work though, because such threads still exist and are part of both grassroots and intellectual movement and mobilization today. For the most part I found it clear, well-argued, and quite readable, but some of the terminology definitely put me off a bit, it wasn't intuitive really, but again, worth thinking through and more than helpful. Still, any book that requires you to know Althusser's concept of overdetermination in advance is going to take some work. Essentially they argue that ideas of race are constructed through an ongoing political/ideological/cultural struggle, so for example in the 1960s there was an uprising of views coming from the civil rights and black power movement that challenged the dominant views of race, and indeed changed it in ways that continue on today in spite of conservative and neoliberal challenges. Each of these formulations of what race means are what Omi and Winant call a racial project. A summary of their argument: The theory of racial formation suggests that society is suffused with racial projects, large and small, to which all are subjected. This racial 'subjection' is quintessentially ideological. Everybody learns some combination, some version, of the rules of racial classification, and of her own racial identity, often without obvious teaching or conscious inculcation. Thus we are inserted in a comprehensively racialized social structure. Race becomes "common sense" -- a way of comprehending, explaining, and acting in the world. A vast web of racial projects mediates between the discursive or representational means in which race is identified and signified on the one hand, and the institutional and organizational forms in which it is routinized and standardized on the other. These projects are the heart of the racial formation process. The battle is over this 'common-sense' formulation, and the structures it is entwined with. Omi and Winant see the majority of America's history as racial dictatorship, and it is hard to argue they are wrong. From America's founding until the civil war this common-sense (itself constructed over the years) understood non-whites as less than whites, as slaves or barbarians. Reconstruction was a brief opening, but in 1877 it closed to Jim Crow: almost absolute in the South and formidable in the rest of the country. Not until the 1960s was there a new struggle, a new politics, a new common sense. They use the idea of a trajectory to understand this dialectic of struggle and the defense of white privelege as it plays out over time, which I really like. It allows them to analyze the different forces at work, where gains were made and where they have been lost, or in their terminology assimilated or insulated. The use Gramsci's theory of hegemony to show both how a racial project can become dominant, and yet how at the same time it remains contestable, unstable, capable of being toppled by another formation with enough force behind it. It is the absence of such a formation that fragmented the movement 50 years ago, and the continuing absence that makes us weak today. I wouldn't mind coming together behind theirs, but I suppose that would have happened if it were going to. But I do like their definition of racism: Racial formation theory allows us to differentiate between race and racism. ... race has no fixed meaning, but is constructed and transformed socio-historically through competing political projects, through the necessary and ineluctable link between the structural and cultural dimensions of race in the U.S. This emphasis on projects allows us to refocus our understanding of racism as well, for racism can now be seen as characterizing some, but not all, racial projects. A racial project can be defined as racist if and only if it creates or reproduces structures of domination based on essentialist categories of race. They have a fascinating analysis of the rise of the right and how they are rearticulating the idea of race in the US, identifying the new use of 'color-blindness' and the attempts to universalize race and culture, to claim we are all one and undivided. Highly recommended...

  2. 5 out of 5

    Owen

    The bible of racial theory. Another top five book in terms of changing how I view myself and the world. Ever wondered what "race" is? Read this book.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Victoria

    please clap

  4. 4 out of 5

    Kate Carey

    Extremely insight theories about race and how it and other social movements have shaped U.S. politics since the end of WWII. This book's organization and use of historical examples demonstrate the different paradigms of race theory such that a student with little or no understanding of race theory can engage with the text and take away valuable and very relevant about race in the United States.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Mike Mena

    Excellent clear and coherent theory of American racial formation. Offers an impressive genealogy of "colorblind" ideology and the creation of contemporary right wing politics (which actually isn't so contemporary). Great "first" book on race for anyone interested.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Rasheed Abdullah

    Racial Formation in the United States From the 1960’s to the 1990’s by Michael Omi and Howard Winant is a deep, scientific, almost thesis-styled review of the term “race,” it’s understanding, and usage in the U.S. from the 60’s to the 90’s. They attempt to give concreteness to this nebulous term by defining it from various points. The book is dense at times which can bog down the reader. It’s not really bedtime reading, it is more for studying. I don’t want to belittle the writers by suggesting t Racial Formation in the United States From the 1960’s to the 1990’s by Michael Omi and Howard Winant is a deep, scientific, almost thesis-styled review of the term “race,” it’s understanding, and usage in the U.S. from the 60’s to the 90’s. They attempt to give concreteness to this nebulous term by defining it from various points. The book is dense at times which can bog down the reader. It’s not really bedtime reading, it is more for studying. I don’t want to belittle the writers by suggesting that they should have made this book for recreational reading. I delved into it because it was referenced in Michelle Alexander’s book, The New Jim Crow. There are incredible insights in this book as it takes a comprehensive look at race in the United States. Even though it is only 160 pages if you subtract the index and notes, it feels like more due to the content. Even if this isn’t your cup of tea, this makes a great reference book

  7. 4 out of 5

    Taylor

    Omi and Wynant provide a concise history of racial paradigms during one of the most tumultuous periods in the US as a backdrop to their novel theory of racial formation. Their cited specific examples fit nicely into overarching thematic analyses of ethnicity-based, class-based, and nation-based paradigms of racial thinking. I also appreciated the dialectical alternative that they propose, a paradigm of racial formation in which reactionary conservative politics also come into play. This producti Omi and Wynant provide a concise history of racial paradigms during one of the most tumultuous periods in the US as a backdrop to their novel theory of racial formation. Their cited specific examples fit nicely into overarching thematic analyses of ethnicity-based, class-based, and nation-based paradigms of racial thinking. I also appreciated the dialectical alternative that they propose, a paradigm of racial formation in which reactionary conservative politics also come into play. This productive theoretical framework adds important texture to the neoconservative movement culminating in 80's Reaganism.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Brian Elswick

    A foundational look at race in America. Not overly technical. Seems like a good introduction to a complicated issue (too often assumed to be a no-brainer). I found the middle section of the book tracing racial ideas since WWII to be very well written and thought out, especially regarding the roots (and weaknesses) of colorblind ideology. Clearly there is a reason there is a 3rd edition of this book published 30 years after the original. Time tests the value of scholarly works, this work has past A foundational look at race in America. Not overly technical. Seems like a good introduction to a complicated issue (too often assumed to be a no-brainer). I found the middle section of the book tracing racial ideas since WWII to be very well written and thought out, especially regarding the roots (and weaknesses) of colorblind ideology. Clearly there is a reason there is a 3rd edition of this book published 30 years after the original. Time tests the value of scholarly works, this work has past the test.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Melissa Abad

    I read the most recent edition (2014). I could imagine an US social history course being designed around this. The authors do a great job weaving in the dominant paradigms of how ID based difference was studied and is a function of the different war periods, as well as evolving civil rights and immigrant rights legislations.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Mikayla Beckman

    ANOTHER book for school that I only read parts of but this one was for Sociology! I'm going to be honest, at this point they are kinda all blending together but I know this had insightful and valuable information in it, I have just been reading SO many books on race that I can't remember what this one specifically was about and I'm too lazy to take out my notes for it.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Matthew Rohn

    Really solid and concise theory book. The overview of the different major conceptions of race (ethnicity, nationality, and class) is phenomenal and the analysis of the racial formation process is strong if somewhat overly abstract in the way it's discussed

  12. 5 out of 5

    Frank García

    Great but get the new version with the chapter on Obama. It’s also re-written to be in a much more accessible manner.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Doris Raines

    I Like THIS BOOK Q. HAVE THE WORLD CHANGED AT ALL OR THE PEOPLES. .?...??

  14. 5 out of 5

    Anthony Johnson

    great informative read

  15. 4 out of 5

    Abby Brown

    Omi and Winant wrote Racial Formation in the United States to outline historical race theories, develop their theory of racial formation in the racial state, and apply their racial formation theory to recent history from the 1960s to the 1990s. The authors argue most racial theories fit into three ideal-type categories of ethnicity, class, and nation (Omi and Winant 1993:11). They describe how ethnicity arose in the 1920s in response to biologisitc conceptions of race. Ethnicity conceptions, of Omi and Winant wrote Racial Formation in the United States to outline historical race theories, develop their theory of racial formation in the racial state, and apply their racial formation theory to recent history from the 1960s to the 1990s. The authors argue most racial theories fit into three ideal-type categories of ethnicity, class, and nation (Omi and Winant 1993:11). They describe how ethnicity arose in the 1920s in response to biologisitc conceptions of race. Ethnicity conceptions, of which race was a part, were "understood as the result of a group formation process based on culture and descent" (ibid. 15). Cultural pluralism and assimilationism were two divergent paths within this framework. The ethnicity paradigm held strong until challenged by class and nation conceptions of race in the 1960s. Class theories tended to look at race under economic spheres of exchange, distribution, or production. Nation theories centered on Pan-Africanism, Cultural Nationalism, Marxism, and Internal Colonialism.¬ A re-worked conception of ethnicity rose again the 1970s and 1980s. Each of these race theories "all neglect the specificity of race as an authomous field of social conflict, political organization, and cultural/ideoglocial meaning" (ibid. 48). They state: "race is a concept which signifies and symbolizes social conflicts and interests by referring to different type of human bodies (ibid. 55). They believe: "racial formation is the sociohistorical process by which racial categories are created, inhabited, transformed, and destroyed" (ibid. 55). In the last section of the book, they apply racial formation theory to the racial state. Omi and Winant use Gramscian and Polyanian thought stating organic intellectuals led racial social-movements in the United States leading to the Great Transformation of "racial awareness, racial meaning, and racial subjectivity" resulting in limited racial reforms in the 1960s (ibid. 96). Class and nation paradigms after these limited reforms were not successful because they reduced race to other phenomena (ibid. 97). Omi and Winant pay special attention to re-articulations of race under Reagan, Bush, and Clinton administrations. The 1970s brought economic collapse which the conservative politicians blamed on liberal advances from the 1960s. Even Clinton continued to omit race discussions from politics moving under racial neoliberalism which views race as a dichotomy and downplays racial significance (ibid. 152). Coming from a natural science background with little exposure to race studies, this book provided a good overview of race theories and race relations in the United States. It was sometimes difficult to remember the plethora of theorists described as shaping the field of race studies, but the authors' main points were well taken - race is a social construct embedded in both social and political relations in United States society and a complex view of racial formation has to be understood in the context of history. My primary critique would be that Omi and Winant argue towards the end of the book that one failure of racial neoliberalism is the tendency to view races as a dichotomy (black-white, city-suburb, etc.) (ibid. 152). However, they themselves seemed to focus mostly on black-white relations in the sections on nation-based race theories and in their discussions on social movements in the Great Transformation.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Drick

    For anyone seeking to understand the role that race and racism has played in the cultural and political life of the US this book is a must. After discussing previous theories of how race was believed to interact with other demographic factors (ethnicity, class and nation), the authors ( actually read the 1986 edition by Omi and Winant) put forth their theory that contends that social, economic and political factors determine the content and importance of racial categories, and have shaped the me For anyone seeking to understand the role that race and racism has played in the cultural and political life of the US this book is a must. After discussing previous theories of how race was believed to interact with other demographic factors (ethnicity, class and nation), the authors ( actually read the 1986 edition by Omi and Winant) put forth their theory that contends that social, economic and political factors determine the content and importance of racial categories, and have shaped the meaning of race in the current era. Their analysis is very strong, and shows how race has been and continues to be a major determining factor for economic, social and political opportunity and justice in our society August 2016: The Third edition of this book (published 2015) greatly expands the discussion of what race as a social construction means. Racism is not just seen as interpersonal hate or acted prejudice but something that is embedded in political, cultural and social structures, policies and laws which require radical structural change. The authors review the ebb and flow of anti-racism projects and see the current state of racism being characterized by the hegemonic ideology of color blindness. They review the policies of presidential administration from Nixon thru Obama and how they either reinforced or challenge the embedded racist ideology. They also make a strong case for the marriage of colorblind ideology and the rise of neoliberalism.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Aaron

    I am not convinced this was written well. Interesting historical perspective that pops up, but their interpretation of Gramsci's hegemony seems a bit confused and muddled, which while an abstract concept shouldn't be as hard to describe as they have made it. I do appreciate them trying though. I'm also not convinced entirely by their critique of Nation, and also think it would have helped to (de)complicate the model of race, ethnicity, class and nation in regards to hegemony by using a more ecol I am not convinced this was written well. Interesting historical perspective that pops up, but their interpretation of Gramsci's hegemony seems a bit confused and muddled, which while an abstract concept shouldn't be as hard to describe as they have made it. I do appreciate them trying though. I'm also not convinced entirely by their critique of Nation, and also think it would have helped to (de)complicate the model of race, ethnicity, class and nation in regards to hegemony by using a more ecological approach. I felt a bit lost after reading this, and uncertain exactly where it was headed (the political aims feel a bit half hearted, or at least as a second thought). It is however valuable, I think!

  18. 4 out of 5

    Kristin

    this is a review of the original, first edition - although i sort of wish i'd realized that they'd published a third edition before i started reading the first one. doh! regardless, this book rings incredibly true even nearly 30 years later - truly a classic text that argues why/how race is a fundamental organizing construct of US american political and social life. particularly appropriate/interesting to read in the context of the current racial climate, ferguson protests, etc. this book offers this is a review of the original, first edition - although i sort of wish i'd realized that they'd published a third edition before i started reading the first one. doh! regardless, this book rings incredibly true even nearly 30 years later - truly a classic text that argues why/how race is a fundamental organizing construct of US american political and social life. particularly appropriate/interesting to read in the context of the current racial climate, ferguson protests, etc. this book offers useful language/concepts for understanding the media's and politicians' responses to the protests - for example, their use of strategies of "absorption" and "isolation" amidst an ongoing battle to re-articulate the meaning of race in the US.

  19. 4 out of 5

    The Awdude

    This book may have been a valuable contribution to critical race theory when it was first written, what with the Reagan farce fresh in everyone's minds, but I fail to see what all the fuss is about. O&M's argument is basically this: Race is both real and disucrsive because it shapes socio-political environs as well as being shaped by them, and the neoliberal/conservative emphasis on striving for a "color-blind" American society is a regression in racial policy that will continue to reinforce dis This book may have been a valuable contribution to critical race theory when it was first written, what with the Reagan farce fresh in everyone's minds, but I fail to see what all the fuss is about. O&M's argument is basically this: Race is both real and disucrsive because it shapes socio-political environs as well as being shaped by them, and the neoliberal/conservative emphasis on striving for a "color-blind" American society is a regression in racial policy that will continue to reinforce discrimination. Which of course is true. But their "racial formation" theory is under-explored, and a thinking person's reaction to it will be something like, duh!

  20. 4 out of 5

    Tannya

    This is a really amazing book. I have read articles and sections of it in several of my classes at UofO. These authors/professors write with great insight into these subjects. I can't wait to read the entire book from cover to cover. OK so now that I am done reading the entire book...it was pretty good. I found it somewhat redundant, and I felt also that it left out some important aspect of racial theory. It was great however, as a reference book for this class to really compare it with other mo This is a really amazing book. I have read articles and sections of it in several of my classes at UofO. These authors/professors write with great insight into these subjects. I can't wait to read the entire book from cover to cover. OK so now that I am done reading the entire book...it was pretty good. I found it somewhat redundant, and I felt also that it left out some important aspect of racial theory. It was great however, as a reference book for this class to really compare it with other more contemporary theories to discern what I did and didn't like about it.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Daniel

    I'll have more in a bit but I'm reading this for a class on the history of education in the United States; I find it important, opinionated, dense, extremely analytical, objective, critical, and a little piercing (like the issue of race itself). I think the argument here is meant to teach the reader that race is much more than we think and the issue of racism is something that still dwells within us. We strive for equality and we get there through active work and an active consciousness. That's I'll have more in a bit but I'm reading this for a class on the history of education in the United States; I find it important, opinionated, dense, extremely analytical, objective, critical, and a little piercing (like the issue of race itself). I think the argument here is meant to teach the reader that race is much more than we think and the issue of racism is something that still dwells within us. We strive for equality and we get there through active work and an active consciousness. That's what I see, at least.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Neisha

    Very useful addition to critical theory. Omi and Wiant move beyond an ideological definition of race, and provide and interesting interpretation of Gramsci's hegemonic theory. With their conceptual definition of race we are able to challenge notions of race as biological and essential. However I will briefly note that this approach does not deeply theorize the relations between social structures and agency to further understandings of the role of racism in everyday practices.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Tressie Mcphd

    The fetishization of racism as an individual perversion obscures institutional racism. Omi and Winant's is a structural argument that challenges that. They want to bring institutions back into racial theory. The focus on role of State but it's not only true of the State. Macro argument, specific to US context. Must read.

  24. 5 out of 5

    YunJin

    for people who are unfamiliar with these sorts of studies, i would suggest reading the conclusion first because it sort of requires some prerequisite knowledge. chapter seven (race and reaction) was kickass and made me feel like kitty cat whiskers were tickling my face.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Leigh Cross

    This is the most comprehensive and accurate account of race in American politics for the era that it covers (1960s to 1990s) - it is the closest thing to a "primer" on race that exists. An essential for anyone interested in issues of race.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Monica

    Good book. It is very good at providing a foundation to what race is NOT. It clarifies terms like ethnicity, nationalism, etc. It is an easy read - some complexity in the use of language but not bad at all if you are interested in the topic of race.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Bigg Khalil

    An excellent read on the development of race in the US. A bit basic at times, it gives a clear introduction to how race has been created and reified in the US.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Dioscita

    Read it 'cause I had to, but SNOOOORRRREEEEE..... this thing was a "sleeper" (and not in a good way).

  29. 4 out of 5

    Yvonne

    This book is my bible for understanding racial formation in the U.S. and in other countries. I read this for the first time in an undergrad ethnic studies class, and return to it, again and again.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Nicolas Shump

    Great intro into the consideration of race and ethnicity for undergrad students and even grad students.

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