Race as a ‘Bundle of Sticks’: Designs that Estimate Effects of Seemingly Immutable Characteristics

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Although understanding the role of race, ethnicity, and identity is central to political science, methodological debates persist about whether it is possible to estimate the effect of something ``immutable.'' At the heart of the debate is an older theoretical question: is race best understood under an essentialist or constructivist framework? In contrast to the ``immutable characteristics'' or essentialist approach, we argue that race should be operationalized as a ``bundle of sticks'' that can be disaggregated into elements. With elements of race, causal claims may be possible using two designs: (1) studies that measure the effect of exposure to a racial cue and (2) studies that exploit within-group variation to measure the effect of some manipulable element. These designs can reconcile scholarship on race and causation and offer a clear framework for future research.

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See also: Maya Sen
Last updated on 03/06/2015