Monday, November 29, 2010

Us against them - Kinder & Kam (2009)

Kinder, Donald R., and Cindy D. Kam. 2009. Us against them : ethnocentric foundations of American opinion. Chicago; London: University of Chicago Press.

Probably it is true that Professor Donald Kinder is active and productive scholar whose works are widely acknowledged and cited. If you read the back of the book’s cover, there are very famous scholars’ recommendations for this book. For example, Samuel Popkin, Jack Citrin, Stanley Feldman. I am not sure how much attention the recommenders paid on this newest book authored by Donald Kinder, but I have to confess that this book is the most disappointing work among Professor Kinder’s great pieces.

To be honest, I was deeply moved by his previous book, titled Divided by Color (authored with Lynn Sanders). Divided by Color was, in my reading, very impressive and well written with provisions of many insightful arguments and straightforward and concise quantitative analyses with theoretically cogent descriptions. While later works of Paul Sniderman (e.g., Reaching beyond race) counterargued or doubted the conclusion, I truly believe that the book was, by itself, one of the greatest books written during 1990s.

This book, however, contains many parts with which I cannot agree. First, the measures of ethnocentrism were hardly related with ‘ethnicity’ that was popularly defined in social scientific research. Actually, the measure is nothing but ‘race-centrism’ because the measure is based on evaluation of own racial category against averaged evaluation of other racial categories. As far as I’ve remember, there were no discussion, or more precisely theoretical justifications, showing why racial category should be equated with ethnic category. The authors introduced two measures: one of them is based on traits of a group which is widely adopted to measure racial stereotype, and the other is based on feeling thermometer toward each racial category. If the authors replaced ‘ethnocentrism’ with ‘raciocentrism,’ my dissatisfactions would be reduced.

Second, relating to the first one, I cannot understand why evaluation of racial group comparison (ingroup minus averaged outgroups) predict international politics or other domestic issues. If one European American had relatively higher (i.e., more positive or warmer) evaluation on own racial group against other racial groups, then why he (or she) opposed foreign aids? I believe the results are clearly interpretable if the variable is truly an operationalization of ethnocentrism (Americans against Non-Americans). However, the measure (even if it was termed as ethnocentrism) compares white Americans against non-white Americans?

Third, among the theories introduced in the second chapter (if the introduction chapter is treated as the first chapter), the fourth one is highly misleading, I think, given the results are true. The fourth one is based on socio-biology (e.g., Edward Wilson). Personally, I have no opposition to genetic theories and their application in social behaviors. Since the graduation of undergraduate, I have no formal education of natural science, and thus I have no ability to judge whether sociobiology is true or not. The problem (probably the biggest one I felt, when reading the book) was the serious naïve measure of racial categories (ie., white, black, Hispanic, and Asians) which was wedded with genes that should be sophisticated and only can be measured through nano-technology. For example, imagine one Chinese and one Indian, and one Arabian. The three people are very different, in terms of genes. To be honest, an Indian might be closer to Europeans, rather than Mongolians or other races. Even if national origins can be traced, it is actually impossible to classify one person as ‘white.’ Sincerely, I believe that the fourth theory should be deleted from the list (1) because the authors do not provide any results or data that can support (or reject) the theoretical arguments, (2) because naïve racial category is convenient one, rather than scientific one, and (3) because the mismatch between racial category in opinion polls and scientific genes seriously erodes the quality of the interpretation of the results.

My reactions might be harsh. Probably, I felt disappointed because the previous book (Divided by color) was so wonderful that this book would maintain similar level of beauty and cogency and soundness and insights.

I am sure that lots of people (whether the reader was an academic reader or a general reader) may fully agree with the conclusion of this book (Us against them), but I am also sure that I cannot be one of such people.

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