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Racial Formation in Perspective: Connecting Individuals, Institutions and Power Relations

Andrew M. Penner
Ryan Light
Annual Review of Sociology

Over the past 25 years, since the publication of Omi & Winant's Racial Formation in the United States, the statement that race is socially constructed has become a truism in sociological circles. Yet many struggle to describe exactly what the claim means. This review brings together empirical literature on the social construction of race from different levels of analysis to highlight the variety of approaches to studying racial formation processes. For example, macro-level scholarship often focuses on the creation of racial categories, micro-level studies examine who comes to occupy these categories, and meso-level research captures the effects of institutional and social context. Each of these levels of analysis has yielded important contributions to our understanding of the social construction of race, yet there is little conversation across boundaries. Scholarship that bridges methodological and disciplinary divides is needed to continue to advance the racial formation perspective and demonstrate its broader relevance.