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THE DEMISE OF INTEGRATION: Competition, Diffusion, and Ethnographic Expertise in the Emergent Field of Higher Education, 1865–1915

  • Christi M. Smith (a1)

Racial integration has been a tenet of educational equity for over fifty years. Despite this, U.S. higher education presents staggering rates of segregation. Strikingly, there is little scholarship to answer the question of how integrated colleges segregated? I interrogate the process of segregation over a fifty-year period through a comparative historical analysis of the broader field of higher education and case studies of three nineteenth-century colleges. Through analysis of independently collected archival materials, I show that local-level organization of racial contact fails to account for the success or failure of racial integration in schools. Instead, I show that the interaction between colleges—and the emergence of a competitive field of higher education—undermined even successfully integrated campuses. Mesolevel practices are important for revealing how organizational actors implement rationalized cultural ideas as well as how local-level ideas are negotiated in a situated field. The growth of intercollegiate college competition differentiated not only particular types of education but also consecrated groups of people. Further, this reveals the production of cultural meanings around race as a differentiation strategy in response to interorganizational competition.

Corresponding author
* Corresponding author: Christi M. Smith, Department of Sociology, Oberlin College, 305 King Hall, 10 N. Professor Street, Oberlin, Ohio 44074. E-mail:
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