What is “Critical” about Critical Racial Theory?

Authored by: Patricia Hill Collins

Routledge International Handbook of Contemporary Social and Political Theory

Print publication date:  March  2011
Online publication date:  March  2011

Print ISBN: 9780415548250
eBook ISBN: 9780203875575
Adobe ISBN: 9781135997946


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Ideas about race as well as racial theory have long occupied a peculiar position in Western knowledge. For one, despite its ubiquitous nature in empirical work, race was not treated as centrally important to the theoretical concerns of Western social thought. Racial knowledge remained scattered across several academic disciplines, often as an unmarked signifier attached to some other concern. Biology, sociology, history, literature, political science, economics, medicine, and education have all had distinctive and often storied traditions of scholarship that produced knowledge about race, and that often used race as part of some other project. For example, sociology sought to understand class formations, it routinely subordinated race to class, arguing that race was a manifestation of class. Similarly, biology ostensibly sought to understand human intelligence and capacity for morality, yet scientific findings grounded in racial logic provided evidence for white superiority. These were not primarily theoretical discourses about race, even though ideas about race were central to their scholarly projects. Moreover, because racial scholarship focused on empirical questions and concerns, racial theory was an afterthought. In this collective disciplinary context, ideas about race permeated Western discourse, yet race was typically seen as derivative of some other seemingly more fundamental theoretical concerns associated with a particular discipline or school of thought.

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