Seminar 5 Outline – Jan 19, 2021

Community Peace and Justice Network January 19, 2021
Race Together: Learnings about and Race and Racism in America
Arturo Pierre Lewis

Perspective Matters because Race Matters

Macro-sociological Perspectives: The Order and Conflict Models, Topic/Chapter 4

Chapter Objectives—after reading chapter four you should be able to:

  • Describe the difference between the Social-Psychological approach and the Social-Structural approach in studying majority-minority relations
  • Differentiate between the two major theoretical perspectives in Sociology and apply to them to majority-minority relations
  • Describe how the two major theories view the location of social problems in society
  • Use the culture of poverty and conflict theories to discuss single parent families, teen pregnancy and poverty

Functionalist Perspective

A sociological perspective stressing the notions that society is made up of interrelated parts that contribute to the effectiveness of the society and that society tends toward consensus, order, and stability. Without this there would be a poor quality of life for society, especially for ethnic minorities.

Conflict Perspective

A sociological perspective that sees society as dominated by a powerful, elite, which controls most of the wealth and power, to the disadvantage of other, less powerful members of the society. This does not favor ethnic minorities; therefore, this view ultimately leads to conflict and change.

Functionalist Theory on Majority-Minority Relations


This is a tendency to view one’s own group as the norm or standard and view the out-group as not just different but also strange and usually inferior.

* The in-group sees itself as natural, the best, and its ways to be the only way of doing things, and all others must measure up.

* Ethnocentrism can cause ethnic conflict which can tear apart a society; however, some see it as being useful.

* The theory is that if it brings people to a place where they can share similar values then that is a good thing.

* In-groups treat the ethnic minority as the enemy, i.e. “they are un-American.”

* The focus is usually on what the other is not.

* Ethnocentrism leads to Ethnic Stratification.

* Ethnic Stratification has to do with the ethnic minority being left out or not being allowed to be included with the In-group or the larger society.

* To alter this, the expectation is for the ethnic minority to assimilate.


A process whereby a minority group and the dominant group gradually become integrated into a common culture and social system.

* America says it’s a melting pot but perhaps it’s more like a salad bowl or neither.

Conflict Theory on Majority-Minority Relations

* This theory debunks the idea that when all ethnic minorities work hard, they will advance.

* The ethnic minority is often discriminated against when it comes to moving upward in employment.

* Ethnocentrism and other types of prejudices exploit ethnic minorities.

* Full assimilation is not what some strive for since to assimilate may mean agreeing to practices and procedures that the ethnic minority may not agree with.

* Instead, there are many ethnic minorities who choose not to change and take on the behavior of the dominant group which it sees as prejudice oppressors and immoral human beings who are not interested in the well-being of all people.

Three Theories on Race and Ethnic Relations

  1. Marxist Theory

Inequality is based on class.

The one who owns the “Means of Production” is in a higher class.

The owners of the “Means of Production” divide the working class and therefore controls the wealth and maintain power.

Marxist Theory urges the working class to focus on class and not race and therefore work together on their common class interests.

This is Class Consciousness.

The problem is that everyone will not do this and as a result it will further divide the working class and keep the owners in power.

  1. Split Labor Market

* Race and Class as causes for inequality.

* 3 Classes according to this theory:

  1. Owners of the Means of Production.
  2. Higher Paid Laborers
  3. Lower Paid Laborers

* The owner wants the best worker for the lowest pay.

* The Higher Paid Worker is trying to protect his/her job from the Lower Paid worker.

* The higher Paid Worker is usually white and middle class or from an ethnic group that has a middle class.

* They encourage discrimination against ethnic minorities to protect their own jobs, especially when the economy is bad and they feel threatened.

  1. Internal Colonialism Theory

* Inequality based upon race and ethnicity in a system established by the dominant group (Whites and Institutional Slavery).

* African Americans, Native Americans, and Mexican Americans were all brought under the rule of white Americans, this allowed white Americans to benefit economically.

* Slave labor as in the case of African Americans, the land that was taken away from Native Americans, or the forced cheap labor and poor living conditions that Mexican Americans were subjected to.

* White Americans used multiple forms of force.

* White Americans promoted racist ideologies leading other whites and sometimes the victims to believe that “Being white was right” or the best.

* Whites attacked the culture of non-whites.

* Whites isolated non-whites from the mainstream labor markets; discriminating against them and not allowing them to compete by introducing their inventions and gaining wealth.

* The myth of “Cultural inferiority” was used to exploit ethnic minorities.

* This view states that minorities are better off when they reject attacks on their culture, reject assimilation, and promote and maintain their own values and economic development in their own communities.

* This doesn’t always work since corporations are powerful and minorities are dependent on them.

* According to this theory the inequalities exist because interests groups (the dominant group) benefit.

* Violence was and is used as a tool to prevent participation and inclusion.

* Scholar, Cornell West states, “Humanity has been violent for a very long time. We only need to look at the history of this county to realize that Institutional Racism has benefited the dominant group and has left ethnic minorities with the never-ending task of working extra hard to improve its own conditions.”

Discussion Questions 

  1. People often emphasize the attitudes and behaviors of individuals when trying to address social problems such as racial inequality or racial violence. How is a macro-sociological or social-structural approach different from this?
  2. Why, from a functionalist standpoint, is ethnocentrism common in most societies? How does ethnocentrism contribute to racial inequality?
  3. According to functionalist theory, whose interests are served by social inequality? According to conflict theory, whose interests are served by social inequality? What kinds of research might be useful for resolving this debate?
  4. Give three reasons why family structure or family type may be an important cause of high rates of poverty among African Americans or Hispanic Americans. Give three reasons why family structure or family type may not be an important cause of high rates of poverty among African Americans or Hispanic Americans. 

Web Links  This is a webpage for the University of Alabama Department of Anthropology website. This page was created by students for students and includes a discussion of the main theory, key figures and concepts and comments from sociologists. Social Science Information System based at the University of Amsterdam. Includes information about theories and subjects in Sociology and Anthropology.  Poverty in America at Change.Org. A blog about poverty in America. The website for the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy.  Facts, statistics and lobbying information.  The website for the Children’s Defense Fund which advocates for all children but particularly for poor children. Facts, statistics and lobbying information. 

Key Words and terms

Assimilation                 False consciousness                 Perspective
Conflict perspective    Functionalist (order)        Social-structural perspective
Ethnic stratification    perspective                               theory
(ethnic inequality)      Macro-sociological approach       Values

Suggested Readings:

Race Matters, by West, Cornell. Boston: Beacon Press, 1993

Promises I can Keep: Why Poor Women Put Motherhood before Marriage.  by Eden and Kefalas. 2007. University of California Press

Keeping on: The Everyday Struggles of Young Families in Poverty by Ispa, Thornburg & Fine. 2006. Brookes Publishing Company