Race and place: Social space in the production of human kinds

Philosophy and Geography 6 (1):83 – 95 (2003)
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Recent discussions of human categories have suffered from an over emphasis on intention and language, and have not paid enough attention to the role of material conditions, and, specifically, of social space in the construction of human categories. The relationship between human categories and social spaces is vital, especially with the categories of class, race, and gender. This paper argues that social space is not merely the consequent of the division of the world into social categories; it is constitutive of social categories. To put it more bluntly, if who we are is bound up with place, then not only do we inhabit a divided America; divided America inhabits us. The second, and equally dramatic, conclusion is that attempts to transform social categories must involve the transformation of social space. When we sort people by categories, we do so spatially: with race come racialized spaces. And because our place comes to inhabit us, when we divide spatially we cannot help but to inscribe and produce categories and identities associated with our spatial divisions: with racialized spaces come race. Recognition of this dialectic is a direct challenge to the one-way considerations of social identity and social space that occurs in much urban sociology and history. Moreover, it demonstrates that there is an internal contradiction in policies--often based in urban sociology and history--that assume that integration can be accomplished along with the conservation of ethnic and racial identity.



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Ronald Sundstrom
University of San Francisco

Citations of this work

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