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Contemporary Racisms and Ethnicities

Mairtin Mac an Ghaill
Open University Press: Buckingham
1999
0335196721 (pb); 033519673X (hb)
14.99 (pb); 45.00 (hb)
175

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Following a socio-historical approach, Contemporary Racisms and Ethnicities aims at providing an understanding of the relationship of "race", ethnicity and racism with wider social and cultural transformations within the British nation-state that goes beyond the dominant anti-racist black-white dualistic paradigm. For this purpose early and more recent theoretical and empirical work is brought together and different sociological frameworks of racism and ethnicity are examined in relation to each other and to the policies at their time. One of the central arguments put forward in the book is that a critical re-reading of historical and contemporary debates within the sociology of race and ethnic relations and in particular a recovery of earlier class-based accounts will provide innovative understandings of racial conflict and social change.

Contemporary Racisms and Ethnicities consists of three parts following the triad of "old times", "new times" and "coming times", which are not to be understood as a chronological but as a conceptual distinction. The five chapters can be read each as a separate unit. Chapter 1 provides an overview of historical debates within academic as well as political representations of race, ethnicity and racism. The review starts with the early culturalist-based perspective of race relations studies, followed by an analysis of its materialist critique by Marxist and Weberian approaches. Employing the categories of materialist and differentialist approaches as heuristic devices, Mac an Ghaill examines the conceptualization of class and racism in late capitalism to finally argue for a re-reading of "old times" texts.

The second part of the volume explores the suggested shift from "old times" to "new times", i.e. from materialist identity politics to the new politics of cultural difference that are underpinned by a differentialist position. Chapter 2 introduces the reader to the more complex conceptualization of racial difference sought for since the 1980s in the context of general issues around identity, subjectivity and discourse as well as the impact of the so-called "cultural turn" within social science on the study of racism and ethnicities. The latter as well as the changing forms of racialization are discussed in more detail in Chapter 3. Based on a review of British as well as European and US literature, Mac an Ghaill explores the theoretical shift beyond the black-white dualistic model of racism that takes contemporary forms of exclusions such as Islamophobia and Euro-racism into account and finally points to the under-researched anti-Irish racism. Chapter 4 deals with nation-making and citizenship against the backdrop of globalization and localization and the interpretation of these social and cultural transformations within differentialist and materialist accounts.

The third part of the book is about the policies of "coming times" and explores the politics of anti-racism and their critiques as well as the changing forms of ethnic minority community mobilizations. Their presentation as historically specific and contextually contingent phenomena supports Mac an Ghaill's emphasis on the need to take the continuities and discontinuities between the two paradigms of multiculturalism and anti-racism into account in order to formulate useful strategies against racism. In his conclusion, the author discusses policy making and empirical research as the fields that remain under-explored by differentialist texts.

Contemporary Racisms and Ethnicities provides a critical and accessible overview of the theoretical and empirical research on racism and ethnicity, with many useful references and a guide to further reading at the end of the book. One of the author's main points of criticism is the traditional "over-racialization" of selected groups of "non-whites" and the de-racialization of white minorities by the majority of scholars. As much as this concern for "invisible" and so far under-researched minorities is likely to be welcomed by these and by scholars alike, one wonders about the approval of the uncritical use of the contested "ethnic minority"-term throughout the book.

However, in sum this volume provides not only a comprehensive critical review of existing research in this field, but it also puts forward a number of very convincing arguments for a re-making of conceptual frameworks based on a re-reading of materialist-based theory without neglecting the "empirical" or the sites of policy-making.

Martina Boese
Manchester Metropolitan University

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