An arid sociological treatise on race as an “important social fact” in the postwar world.
Winant (Sociology/Temple Univ.) examines the emergence of racial politics and various civil-rights movements in the modern US, Brazil, South Africa, and nations of the European Union. He hypothesizes that shifts in the post-WWII geopolitical balance of power (especially the rise of decolonization, migration, and national liberation movements) pushed racial politics to the forefront around the world, demolishing the status quo everywhere; in almost every major social upheaval since 1945, he holds, the issue of race was central. In describing these upheavals, the author sheds light on a few contemporary matters, such as the rapidly changing face of European politics in the wake of massive migrations from North Africa and Asia. He does little, however, to formulate an overarching theory of racial politics or to develop a comparative overview that explains why Brazilian race relations differ from those of the US, say, or Holland. Contrary to the subtitle, much of the narrative here is given over to an analysis of 19th-century historical trends and movements (among them colonialism, imperialism, and abolitionism), and the author does not improve on less theoretical but better-grounded historical studies such as Eugene Genovese’s Roll, Jordan, Roll (not reviewed) and Hugh Thomas’s The Slave Trade (1997), to say nothing of such contemporary sociological work as Cornel West’s provocative Race Matters (1993). Also, Winant’s less-than-startling conclusions are couched in the jargon of the trade (“Early imperialisms balanced their accumulative economic aspirations—both as states and as a range of proto-capitalist enterprises—with politically and culturally regulatory agendas”), which makes for tedious reading indeed.
A minor contribution to the academic literature, although likely to interest social-science students.