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NEW ORLEANS IS NOT THE EXCEPTION: Re-politicizing the Study of Racial Inequality

  • Paul Frymer (a1), Dara Z. Strolovitch (a2) and Dorian T. Warren (a3)

Although political science provides many useful tools for analyzing the effects of natural and social catastrophes such as Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath, the scenes of devastation and inequality in New Orleans suggest an urgent need to adjust our lenses and reorient our research in ways that will help us to uncover and unpack the roots of this national travesty. Treated merely as exceptions to the “normal” functioning of society, dramatic events such as Katrina ought instead to serve as crucial reminders to scholars and the public that the quest for racial equality is only a work in progress. New Orleans, we argue, was not exceptional; it was the product of broader and very typical elements of American democracy—its ideology, attitudes, and institutions. At the dawn of the century after “the century of the color-line,” the hurricane and its aftermath highlight salient features of inequality in the United States that demand broader inquiry and that should be incorporated into the analytic frameworks through which American politics is commonly studied and understood. To this end, we suggest several ways in which the study of racial and other forms of inequality might inform the study of U.S. politics writ large, as well as offer a few ideas about ways in which the study of race might be re-politicized. To bring race back into the study of politics, we argue for greater attention to the ways that race intersects with other forms of inequality, greater attention to political institutions as they embody and reproduce these inequalities, and a return to the study of power, particularly its role in the maintenance of ascriptive hierarchies.

Corresponding author
Professor Paul Frymer, Department of Politics, University of California Santa Cruz, 222 Crown College, 1156 High Street, Santa Cruz, CA 95064. E-mail:
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Thanks go to Regina Kunzel and Sarah Walker.
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Du Bois Review: Social Science Research on Race
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