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“As Nature Has Formed Them”: The History and Current Status of Racial Difference Research


by Russell Skiba — 2012

Background/Context: Research in the latter half of the 20th century purporting to show significant racial differences in intelligence and social behavior appears to pit civil rights concerns against the freedom of scientific inquiry. The core hypotheses and presumptions of recent research on racial difference are not new, however, but spring from a two-century-old program of research that has sought to demonstrate racial differences in socially valued traits.

Purpose/Objective/Research Question/Focus of Study: The purpose of this review was to explore the history of racial difference research in order to (1) elucidate the central themes of that research and (2) explore the reasons for the persistence of those themes into modern racial difference research.

Research Design: The investigation is a historical analysis of research on racial differences from the late 18th century to the present.

Conclusions/Recommendations: Both the methodologies and the willingness to express the core hypotheses of a fixed differential between races on socially important characteristics have changed over time, yet adherence to a set of core research questions has remained relatively unchanged across generations of researchers. Although the consistent conflation of its political and scientific aims has, to some extent, compromised the scientific status of racial difference research, consistent links to social and economic policy have also ensured its intergenerational reproduction. Convergent shifts across a number of disciplines suggest that a Kuhnian-type paradigm shift may be under way that will redefine both the strategies and the types of questions that may characterize future research in the areas of race, ethnicity, and culture.



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Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 114 Number 5, 2012, p. 1-49
http://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 16418, Date Accessed: 4/19/2014 12:33:43 AM

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About the Author
  • Russell Skiba
    Indiana University
    E-mail Author
    RUSS SKIBA is a professor of counseling and educational psychology at Indiana University. His research interests include school discipline, school violence, and issues of disproportionality and equity in school discipline and special education. Recent publications include: Skiba, R., Eckes, S., & Brown, K. (2010). African American disproportionality in school discipline: The divide between best evidence and legal remedy. New York Law School Law Review, 54, 1071–1112; and Gregory, A., Skiba, R., & Noguera, P. (2010). The achievement gap and the discipline gap: Two sides of the same coin? Educational Researcher, 39, 59–68.
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