The Shadow of the State: Social Categories, Politics, and the Standard Model of Inequality
Séminaire "GLOBAL RACE" : Ellis Monk
I contend that one of the main sources of obstacles to innovation and progress in the study of social inequality and stratification - especially ethnoracial inequality - is an adherence to what Bourdieu calls "State-thinking," seeing the world telescoped through the lens of the State. In almost exclusively relying upon State categories (e.g. census categories), I maintain that at least two important things are lost or obscured: (1) consistent scholarly recognition of and analytical attention given to important, yet relatively less politically salient and officially institutionalized forms of social difference and (2) the complexity of the processes and mechanisms underlying the production of social inequality associated with the highly socially and politically salient social categories and principles of social vision and division that we actually tend to examine such as race, ethnicity, and gender. To illustrate this, I conduct a comparative analysis of ethnoracial inequality in the U.S. and Brazil focusing on a bodily marker of ethnoracial difference – skin tone. In so doing, I sidestep conventional research practices, which typically consist of between-group comparisons using dichotomous categories based on self-identification that inadvertently obscure how gradations of skin color significantly stratify life chances within and across official "State" categories. I conclude by discussing the implications of these findings for the study of ethnoracial inequality, pressing debates about the possible future(s) of the U.S. and Brazilian racial orders (e.g. "Latin Americanization" or "Convergence/Divergence"), and an approach to the study of social inequality, in general, that proceeds from centering the body in our analyses via a re-conceptualization of Bourdieu’s relatively neglected concept of bodily capital.