Race as a Bundle of Sticks: Designs that Estimate Effects of Seemingly Immutable Characteristics

Posted: 13 May 2016

See all articles by Maya Sen

Maya Sen

Harvard University - Harvard Kennedy School (HKS)

Omar Wasow

Princeton University

Date Written: May 2016

Abstract

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.

Suggested Citation

Sen, Maya and Wasow, Omar, Race as a Bundle of Sticks: Designs that Estimate Effects of Seemingly Immutable Characteristics (May 2016). Annual Review of Political Science, Vol. 19, pp. 499-522, 2016. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2779525 or http://dx.doi.org/10.1146/annurev-polisci-032015-010015

Maya Sen (Contact Author)

Harvard University - Harvard Kennedy School (HKS) ( email )

79 John F. Kennedy Street
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

HOME PAGE: http://scholar.harvard.edu/msen

Omar Wasow

Princeton University ( email )

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