Color-blind sociology fails to recognize many important demographic, social and cultural transformations and the fact that racialized relations determine not only the lives of migrants and those categorized as “others”, but also the lives of people categorized as “us” and white.
By Anna Rastas and Sanna Poelman*
Increasing number of people in Finland position themselves within racialized minorities and talk about themselves as racialized subjects. The “colour-blind-spot” in the title refers to research that does not acknowledge racialized relations and the meanings of race. Color-blind sociology fails to recognize many important demographic, social and cultural transformations and the fact that racialized relations determine not only the lives of migrants and those categorized as “others”, but also the lives of people categorized as “us” and white. Sociologists and other social scientists are responsible for developing tools (concepts, analytical categories, research methods etc.) that allow us to examine the various meanings of race and the different articulations of racism in our societies.
Our recent study that was published in Sosiologia (1/2021) investigates how racialized relations are acknowledged, or overlooked and discarded, in sociological studies focusing on Finnish society. Our analysis reveals that race – as a social fact and research category – is conspicuous by its absence in research designs that do not specifically address racism. Because our study is written in Finnish, the editors of Raster-blog asked us to share some of our findings here in English. In our article, we discuss challenges related to using the race-category. We also provide suggestions on how racialized relations could be integrated into research designs in societies that do not collect official statistics based on race and ethnicity.
Our data consists of all the peer reviewed articles (N= 151) published in Sosiologia, the major peer reviewed journal in sociology in Finland, between the years 2008 – 2018. First, we analyzed the articles by identifying expressions referring to racialized relations. As key words, we used different variations of the word race (e.g. racialized) as well as words referring to racial (and ethnic) identities and theoretical discussions on the topic (e.g., intersectionality). Only a few articles (< 20) out of the studied sample acknowledged racialized relations in their research designs. The fact that most of these articles dealt with migrant populations shows how race is understood as something that does not concern the majority of Finns.
In the article, we also use individual studies included in our data to exemplify how race could be better incorporated into research on various topics. The theoretical frameworks of many studies in our data lack discussion on racism. This can partly be explained by the absence of research literature on race, decoloniality, intersectionality and related topics in the degree requirements for social sciences in Finnish universities. Even though research on racism has increased in Finland, its scope is still limited. When relying on research built on racialized relations in other countries, it is important to consider how it can be applied to studies on Finnish society.
In the planning of research designs, including questionnaires and interviews, there are alternative ways to encourage discussion on the meanings of race. When it comes to the analysis of research materials, we suggest, for example, to pay attention to how – and if – the research subjects express their and other people’s positionalities in racialized relations. However, words referring to racial identities and categories are numerous and vary between and within different communities. They also depend on individuals’ political identifications, age, family histories, and other variants. Therefore, identifying such words may be challenging for researchers who are not familiar with the rapidly changing and sometimes messy politics of naming racialized relations. For many researchers who have not been forced to deal with these kinds of questions, one way to broaden one’s perspectives is to look for encounters that allow dialogue with people who are positioned differently in racialized social relations. This would also require discussion on the normative whiteness of Finnish academia.
Rastas, Anna & Poelman, Sanna (2021) Suomalaisen Sosiologian värisokea piste. Sosiologia 1/2021: 3-20.
*Anna Rastas and Sanna Poelman both work at Tampere University.
Art on photo by Josh Calabrese on Unsplash.
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