New Racism: Revisiting Researcher Accountabilities
The 'paradigm wars' which were staged in the social research methodology literature around the turn of the millenniumin the late twentieth century injected a richness of discussion into the debates around how we might claim to investigate and to know the social world. At the very least, the debates which occurred during that time broke the strangle hold on social research which had too long been dominated by discussions of method as opposed to the wider epistemological, social and political contexts where research methods are deployed. A decade later, the legacy of those debates continues to be reflected in the contemporary literature on social research methodology which is published in journals such as this and elsewhere. Norma Romm has made important and incisive contributions to in this field over this period. Her book, 'Accountability in Social Research: Issues and Debates' (2001) provided a comprehensive review and discussion of how accountabilities are constructed within and between different research paradigms. I continue to recommend it as a text to advanced researchers to help them to navigate their way through the landmarks which characterise the terrain of social research methodology.
Romm's latest book, 'New Racism' should therefore be received as a new and important milestone and contribution to the field. In this book, Romm sets out to show how one might approach the challenge of carrying out research which is both responsible and accountable in ways that allows the research process to contribute to processes for social change. The term 'new racism' is one deployed by Romm to distinguish forms of racism (and indeed accounts and analyses of racism) which are 'manifest in the patterning of social existence in less obvious ways than 'old fashioned' racism' (p. 1). This may initially seem to be a weak premise upon which to base nearly 500 pages of discussion, analysis and critique. But Romm provides a full and rigorous account of the term in Chapter Two where she situates 'new racism' as prevalent within new and differentiated globalised societies. She draws upon conceptualisations and practices of racism in the USA and in Europe by reflecting upon academic debates and also using exemplars which illustrate 'new' racism as a phenomenon. For anyone who has been wary of entering debates around racism, because of the potential conceptual minefield contained within, Romm's review of this literature will prove to be extremely instructive.
The remainder of the book locates Romm's substantive discussion of racism within her wider project of examining how researchers might define and explore these forms of racism in the context of social inquiry. Here, Romm draws upon her earlier work on researcher accountabilities by following a specific constructivist stance which encompasses both procedural and methodological aspects of social research. Romm proposes that the process of social inquiry should always require researchers to practice reflexivity so that they are cognisant of and responsible for their own presence in the research process and its products. In this way, researchers are able to take responsibility for the ways in which their work is socially consequential.
Of course, the mission of connecting social research to processes of social change is one which has been shared by numerous authors across a range of discipline and topic areas. Romm goes beyond the usual academic formalities of simply acknowledging or challenging her peers. Instead, she pays them the courtesy and respect of engaging with their work by adopting an approach which allows her to be challenged, both intellectually and in terms of her own research praxis.
The thoroughness with which Romm has researched and written 'New Racism ' reflects an approach to her topic which is almost encyclopaedic in scale. Perhaps as a consequence of this, the writing style of the book might be experienced by some as overly mechanistic. However, this book deserves a wide readership – not just amongst scholars who focus upon 'race' and racism as a topic of inquiry, but also amongst those who can see the merit of exploring debates around academic accountability through the lens of gaining insights into and understandings of racism.
University of Bolton