Many scholars agree that groups and group identities are central to politics. But what constitutes a group? Why are some groups more salient than others? What is identity? And how do certain identities become central to political conflicts? This class combines theoretical and empirical approaches to these questions and emphasizes the complexity of group identity. We focus on racial and ethnic politics in the United States. Additionally, this class considers psychological theories of identity, comparative perspectives on immigration and racial identity, and the relationship between ethnic and non-ethnic identities including gender, class, and geography. We discuss foundational scholarship on Black politics and also emerging scholarship on White identity. We adopt a developmental and comparative perspective for the analysis of Latino and Asian-American panethnic identification. We also consider mechanisms of change in group identities.
The course is structured around a series of debates. What do we mean by “identity politics”? Does in-group bias arise from conflicting group interests and, if not, where does it come from? Can descriptive representation be a useful means for furthering group interests? How are group interests defined, and how do they change over time? Is it coherent to speak of group interests at all, or will the interests of groups always be contested? Finally, what effects (if any) can we expect demographic change to have on American politics? For each of these issues, this course aims to provide students with conceptual and empirical tools necessary to develop informed understandings of these debates.
Instructor: Joseph Warren