Theoretical Perspectives in
Race and Ethnic Relations
JOE R. FEAGIN AND CLAIRECE BOOHER FEAGIN
In the United States, explanatory theories of racial and ethnic relations have been concerned with migration, adaptation, exploitation, stratification, and conflict. Most such theories can be roughly classified as either order theories or power-conflict theories, depending on their principal concerns. Order theories tend to accent patterns of inclusion, of the orderly integration and assimilation of particular racial and ethnic groups to a core culture and society, as in the third and fourth of the outcomes just described. The central focus is on progressive adaptation to the dominant culture and on stability in intergroup relations. Power-conflict theories give more attention to the first and fifth outcomes--to genocide and continuing hierarchy--and to the persisting inequality of the power and resource distribution associated with racial or ethnic subordination. In the United States most assimilation theories are examples of order theories. Internal colonialism theories and class-oriented neo-Marxist viewpoints are examples of power-conflict theories. There is considerable variation within these broad categories, but they do provide a starting point for our analysis.
In the United States much social theorizing has emphasized assimilation, the more or less orderly adaptation of a migrating group to the ways and institutions of an established group. Hirschman has noted that "the assimilation perspective, broadly defined, continues to be the primary theoretical framework for sociological research on racial and ethnic inequality." The reason for this dominance, he suggests, is the "lack of convincing alternatives. 1 The English word assimilate comes from the Latin assimulare, to make similar."