Research

Reckoning with Race:
Concepts of Descent-Based Difference
in Organizations

Mural by Ken Marcelina and TALE DMS. Photo by Sarah Iverson.

My dissertation investigates racial sense making — or conceptualization — at a diverse community health center. Drawing on 20 months of ethnographic fieldwork and 47 interviews, I ask: 1) How do organizational actors make sense of concepts of descent-based difference in day-to-day work? 2) How are race concepts negotiated interactionally? and 3) How do race concepts and racial categories influence strategies of social action in the fight for racial inequality? My research aims to contribute to work in the sociology of race, culture, and organizations in order to strengthen efforts to alleviate racial inequity.


The Value of Five Cents:
Mismatched Meaning Making
at a Bottle and Can Redemption Center

Journal of Contemporary Ethnography article

Photo by Sarah Iverson

Drawing on a year-long ethnography at a non-profit bottle and can
redemption center, this study examines the mismatched meanings ascribed by recyclers (or “canners”) and redemption center management to recycling work. Canners primarily make sense of the work for the money it puts in their pocket and for its autonomous work conditions. By contrast, management imbues canning with moral meaning, linking recycling to social, environmental, and spiritual good. I argue that disputes over organizational policies can arise simply from mismatched interpretations of the work’s meaning, and not necessarily from overt coercion from management nor resistance from canners. In addition, canners and management view their relationship divergently: canners view their role as employees and management as their employers, while management see themselves as social service providers and canners as service recipients. I suggest that the relationship between canners and management is thus ambiguously constructed by both parties, leading to unintended consequences in opposition to the non-profit’s mission.


Gender, Generation, and Multiracial Identification in the United States

Demography article
with Janet Xu, Aliya Saperstein, and Ann Morning

Fig 2. Multiracial self-identification by gender and generation among those who report multiracial ancestry

Multiracial self-identification is frequently portrayed as a disproportionately female tendency, but previous research has not probed the conditions under which this relationship might occur. Using the 2015 Pew Survey of Multiracial Adults, we offer a more comprehensive analysis that considers gender differences at two distinct stages: reporting multiple races in one’s ancestry and selecting multiple races to describe oneself. We also examine self-identification patterns by the generational locus of multiracial ancestry. We find that females are more likely to be aware of multiracial ancestry overall, but only first-generation females are more likely than their male counterparts to self-identify as multiracial. Finally, we explore the role of racial ancestry combination, finding that multiracial awareness and self-identification are likely gendered differently for different segments of the mixed-race population. This offers a more nuanced picture of how gender interacts with other social processes to shape racial identification in the United States.


Regimes Beyond the One-Drop Rule:
New Models of Multiracial Identity

Genealogy article
with Ann Morning, Aliya Saperstein, and Janet Xu

Table 3. Distinguishing regimes: A theoretical table of predicted outcomes

The racial classification of mixed-race people has often been presumed to follow hypo- or hyperdescent rules, where they were assigned to either their lower- or higher-status monoracial ancestor group. This simple framework, however, does not capture actual patterns of self-identification in contemporary societies with multiple racialized groups and numerous mixed-race combinations. Elaborating on previous concepts of multiracial classification regimes, we argue that two other theoretical models must be incorporated to describe and understand mixed-race identification today. One is “co-descent,” where multiracial individuals need not align with one single race or another, but rather be identified with or demonstrate characteristics that are a blend of their parental or ancestral races. The other is the “dominance” framework, a modern extension of the “one-drop” notion that posits that monoracial ancestries fall along a spectrum where some—the “supercessive”—are more likely to dominate mixed-race categorization, and others—the “recessive”—are likely to be dominated. Drawing on the Pew Research Center’s 2015  Survey of Multiracial Adults, we find declining evidence of hypo- and hyperdescent at work in the United States today, some support for a dominance structure that upends conventional expectations about a Black one-drop rule, and a rising regime of co-descent. In addition, we explore how regimes of mixed-race classification vary by racial ancestry combination, gender, generation of multiraciality, and the time period in which multiracial respondents or their mixed-race ancestors were born. These findings show that younger, first-generation multiracial Americans, especially those of partial Asian or Hispanic descent, have left hypo- and hyperdescent regimes behind—unlike other young people today whose mixed-race ancestry stems from further back in their family tree.