Gallery viewers standing before Kehinde Wiley's "Femme Piquee Par Un Serpent" at Art Basel Miami Beach

Making People Up: Race, Racism, and Racial Formation

Instructor: Nara Roberta Silva
This is an online course (Eastern Time)

While race is a constant subject of discussion, the definition of race—what it means, and how we should understand it—remains remains controversial and often unclear. What, exactly, is race? How does racism operate, perpetuate, and alter over time? In this course, we will explore how and why people are racialized—that is, marked as belonging to a certain race—and attempt to understand racialization’s impact in shaping or determining social, political, and economic life. Drawing on the concept of “racial formation,” first articulated by the sociologists Michael Omi and Howard Winant in the book Racial Formation in the United States, we’ll consider the ways in which race is socially constructed—that is, via social, economic, and political processes. We’ll explore race’s historical instability—that it changes continuously across space and time—and what its malleability means for any possible anti-racist and emancipatory politics. Having serious implications for sociology, race theory, and social theory more broadly, the study of racial formation compels us to ask: how is race a way of “making people up”? How does the process of racialization work itself out? How can we understand racial formation and the flux of racialization as agents and features of contemporary American life?

Over four weeks, we will examine the theory of racial formation through a reading of Omi and Winant’s classic text. We’ll explore Omi and Winant’s critical assessment of other paradigms of race, their definition of “racial projects,” and their claim that race is a “master category” in the United States. Through the framework of racial formation, the course will also stimulate students to reflect upon new racial formations and categorizations in the 21st century—for example, Latinx and immigrants in the U.S. Throughout, we will ask: What is the balance between state and non-state institutions in the creation and maintenance of racial formations? Given that race is both constructed and contested, what are the avenues for both its contestation and deconstruction? How can we reconcile Omi and Winant’s belief in the instability of the race concept with the persistence of racial inequality? What do the intimate ties between race and racism say about race as an analytical category? Supplementary readings may draw on the works of Eduardo Bonilla-Silva, Oliver C. Cox, W.E.B. DuBois, Anamik Saha, Barbara J. Fields, Kwame Anthony Appiah, Stuart Hall, among others.  

Course Schedule

Thursday, 6:30-9:30pm ET
March 04 — March 25, 2021
4 weeks


Registration Open