Social Construction are practices that reinforce ideas that have been created and accepted by the dominant culture. One example of a social construct is “Race.” Race isn’t biological. It has not scientific basis. There is no race gene. Society made it up and yet it has a powerful influence on the history of the country. The White race is from Europe, Black race from Africa, Yellow race from Asia, and Red race is Native Americans. This is what is meant by “race” as a social construct: it doesn’t exist in objective reality but nonetheless shapes human interaction. We will be returning to the concept of social construct throughout the course.
Ethnicity is a social construct that divides people into smaller social groups based on characteristics such as shared sense of group membership, values, behavioral patterns, language, political and economic interests, history, and ancestral geographical base. Ethnicity is more than just the existence of a name – first or last – that associates someone with other people attached to an ethnic group. An individual is not just connected to his group by ties of family and friendship, but also by ties of interests. Ethnic groups, historically, are also interest groups (Omi and Winant, 18). “As seen through the lens of ethnicity,” for example, “the civil rights movement was a drive for black integration and for the removal of any remaining forms of institutional/legal discrimination” (Omi and Winant, 19). “With rare exceptions, ethnicity theory isn’t very interested in ethnicity among blacks” (Omi and Winant, 22). Ethnicity was first used by European immigrant-settlers in the U.S. to essentialize notions of place attachment (territoriality) stemming from social Darwinism and environmental determinism.
Structural analysis is critical in Ethnic Studies. I’m teaching through a structural analysis versus an individualistic analysis. Individual stories aren’t proof of social realities. We will analyze social structures, which often includes statistical and verifiable data. If we are going to do a structural analysis of institutional racism, we would ask questions like: What kind of schools do different communities have? What kind of teachers do these communities have? What kind of books do they have? You analyze the entire structure and not rely on individual accounts.
Power describes the asymmetrical relationship between social structures and individual agency (e.g. will, intent, choice, motivation, etc.). In the modern sense, power can best be described as a contest of conflicting interests determined through coercion and consent (“sovereign power”); hegemony. In this scenario, power belongs to social structures and those in control (“structuralism”). According to this view of power, there is little any one individual can do to change structures with their own individual actions or planning (“agency”).
The social movements of the 20th century, however, challenged this notion of power; resistance to colonial rule at an international scale demonstrated the power behind collective agency of social movements. Intrigued by the power of resistance to transform structures, postmodern intellectuals became interested in resistance as power. A new theory of power emerged as the masses discovered it wasn’t some innate privilege exercised exclusively by the dominant group. “Power is everywhere,” argues French philosopher Michel Foucault, “not because it embraces everything, but because it comes from everywhere” (Foucault, 1976, p. 93). Power is neither individualistic or structural, but originates in both.
Liberation has many definitions as it invokes many philosophies. Avoiding an individualistic analysis of our social conditions causes to realize our personal freedom is linked to liberation at a societal level. From this social perspective, to experience and organize structures and everyday life without the rule of oppressive systems is liberation while anything less is not. Liberation is an objectively real improvement of living conditions. Throughout the course we will return to the concept of liberation and entertain the many hopes, aspirations, motivations, emotions, and calls to action it incites among Native American, Chicana/o and Latina/o/x American, African American, and Asian American communities.
Begin to think and think again
You have a mind; what’s it thinking?
Instructions: Select one (1) course concept above and write 100+ words addressing the following:
Define what the concept means in your own words (3 pts).
Think of a useful description or example of the concept (4 pts).
Create your own reason that explains why this concept is significant to Ethnic Studies
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