Race as a Bundle of Sticks: Designs that Estimate Effects of Seemingly Immutable Characteristics
Posted: 13 May 2016
Date Written: May 2016
Although understanding the role of race, ethnicity, and identity is central to political science, methodological debates persist about whether it is possible to estimate the effect of something immutable. At the heart of the debate is an older theoretical question: Is race best understood under an essentialist or constructivist framework? In contrast to the “immutable characteristics” or essentialist approach, we argue that race should be operationalized as a “bundle of sticks” that can be disaggregated into elements. With elements of race, causal claims may be possible using two designs: (a) studies that measure the effect of exposure to a racial cue and (b) studies that exploit within-group variation to measure the effect of some manipulable element. These designs can reconcile scholarship on race and causation and offer a clear framework for future research.
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