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In today’s episode, I interview Arthur Sakamoto. Arthur is a professor of sociology at Texas A&M. Prior to working there, he worked at the University of Texas, Austin, from 1989 to 2013. He specializes in economic sociology and class inequality. He has published a number of papers on Asian Americans and their socioeconomic attainments, and papers about whether Asian-Americans are victims of discrimination in the labor market. His work suggests that Asian American men and White men have parity in the labor market. As you’ll hear in this interview, this work is controversial because it breaks the paradigm that most sociologists use. Arthur also talks about the consequences for your career if you try to publish work that challenges the conventional paradigm.
I’ve heard of debates about why sociology is so liberal and there’s some say it’s selectivity—liberals are the people interested in going into sociology…. My perception has been that within the field of sociology, the rewards for people who don’t conform to the conventional wisdom are slim, and I’ve known good sociologists doing good research who did not get tenure because their work didn’t fit into the paradigm very well.
I’ll be frank with you—I’ve been submitting to the American Sociological Review on Asian Americans for the past 25 years and apparently there’s no data good enough for the ASR to convince the reviewers that Asian Americans have reached parity with respect to Whites. Every single one gets rejected. What happens is when the paper doesn’t conform to the conventional wisdom, the methodological standards are raised. But when you argue that there’s discrimination against Asians, the methodological standards are relaxed.
I’ve always been interested in studying Asian Americans and I’ve found that American sociology has not shared my enthusiasm. It’s kind of ironic to me that Japanese Americans have had lower poverty rates than Whites for the past half century; have had higher education for the past century; have had greater probability of obtaining white collar professional jobs for decades, and yet I challenge you to find a single text on race and ethnicity that describe any of that. We get endless detail about internment about Japanese-Americans in WWII but it’s as if everything else that Japanese Americans have done has been obliterated from the field of sociology because of this focus on the majority-minority paradigm. So that’s another reason why I’ve been critical of this—because it’s prevented me from studying Asian Americans in terms of their class characteristics.
A lot of courses don’t seriously talk about Asian Americans systematically so you’re not provided with evidence or consistent data to test this paradigm for Asians. For example, Erik Olin Wright, former president of the American Sociological Association, has an intro textbook “How America Really Works.” And in the whole chapter on race there’s not a single datum on Asian Americans. And that’s “How America Works,” there’s no Asians. It’s not uncommon for these data to be deleted, and they’ll talk about this or that particular instance of racism…. They’ll talk about instances of discrimination but they won’t go over systematic statistics which suggest that Asians are actually less likely to be murdered than other groups.
I have no ideological aversion to studying racial discrimination, I mean, I am confident and sure that there are acts of racism happening all the time. I mean the objective measurement issue is how much of that accounts for total inequality in a distribution. So when I say that we’re moving more to understanding class inequalities that doesn’t meant that we can’t think of, conceptualize, and objectively study discriminatory processes in one way or another, but we need to do so within our old-fashioned conceptualization of sociology as a social science, which is not very glamorous, but I think we need to get back to.
Music: “Ave Marimba” Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com)
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