Breaking Down 'Race': A Radical Retheorization of Racial Formation Theory
Crawford, Cheryl Lynn
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This thesis is a retheorization of Omi's and Winant's (1986) racial formation theory,which addresses the implications, inconsistencies and limitations of the initial theory. It is argued that Omi's and Winant's theory is problematic insofar as it supports the notion of ‘race’ permanency despite being a social constructionist theory. Omi and Winant also largely ignore the naturalization of ‘race’ and ignore the role of ‘nature’ and science in knowledge production and the reproduction of ‘race’. This thesis proposes a radical extension of the theory that addresses these problems, calling itself a radical racial formation theory. In this extension, the debate over the ‘race’ concept and the conundrum that the ‘race’ theorist finds him/herself in is discussed. The role of sociologists in maintaining ‘race’ is considered. ‘Race’ is argued to be an emergent and formative feature of modernity supported by liberalism. It is argued that ‘race’ is often tied to ‘nature’ and made to seem as though both precede history. It is argued that both ‘nature’ and science need to be contested. The notion that all scientific aims are altruistic is challenged given the embeddedness of science in the social. The doctrine of essentialism is confronted along with the belief that essences present themselves as secure ‘knowledge’. The production of racial knowledge is central to this thesis as it is seen as one of the least critiqued arenas in which ‘race’ is reproduced. A radical racial formation theory is situated theoretically in the camps of the Frankfurt school's critical theory and Foucault's poststructuralism and a rapprochement between the two is called for. There is a discussion of the ‘present’ in Foucault's genealogical use, where it is argued that the present exists as a powerful moment where there can be a discontinuity with the present social formation and a break with the racial past. Finally, the Gramscian use of ‘hegemony’ is used to understand racial dominance. It is argued that whiteness presents itself as hegemonic in racial formation and counter-hegemonic possibilities are entertained.