Brokering Belonging: Chinese in Canada's Exclusion Era, 1885-1945

By Lisa Rose Mar | Go to book overview

FOUR
Fixing Knowledge
Pacific Coast Chinese Leaders’ Management of
the Chicago School of Sociology

IN 1924, ROBERT PARK, A sociologist from the University of Chicago, directed a study that asked: are Asians more like blacks or whites?1 To find the answer, Anglo American researchers interviewed Chinese from British Columbia to California, starting with Vancouver, Canada.2 West Coast Chinese felt that Park’s answer could not be left to chance, so they mobilized the Chinese community to steer the researchers in a specific direction. Chinese leaders hoped to win white scholars’ sympathy and turn the power of social science against anti-Chinese policies. Chinese regarded the study as a battle of wits, a battle that the researchers did not know they were fighting.3 This meeting of community activists and scholars would help to shape a pivotal set of ideas about immigration and race that would become known as the Chicago School of Sociology.4

During the early twentieth century, sociologists often depended on local ethnic leaders for access to foreign-language research data.5 Studies of the Chicago School do not completely take into account these collaborations. They favor the perspectives of the researchers but do not fully consider the possibility that their subjects could also be creators of expert knowledge. While researchers often imagined interviews as transactions between individuals, their nonwhite immigrant subjects often approached them as political exchanges between two groups.6 Ethnic leaders’ mediating role in community-academic relations made them the unsung

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