On September 30, 2020, several of us dialed in to attend a webinar panel discussion on “Race, Identity and Culture in the (Post-)Globalization Era.” The participants shared their thoughts on how and why race factors into international political and economic processes. In the spirit of addressing the topic from a political economy perspective, it seems worthwhile to outline the decision calculus that determines why considering race in international political economy (IPE) research is a good idea. If the benefit b of accounting for race times the probability p of success outweighs the costs c weighted by the probability (1 - p) of failure, race should be a key component of IPE research moving forward.

Video 1

This segment was recorded on September 30, 2020, as an installment of the Global Research in International Political Economy webinar series, organized by Layna Mosley (Princeton), Stephanie Rickard (London School of Economics) and B. Peter Rosendorff (New York University).

Video 1

This segment was recorded on September 30, 2020, as an installment of the Global Research in International Political Economy webinar series, organized by Layna Mosley (Princeton), Stephanie Rickard (London School of Economics) and B. Peter Rosendorff (New York University).

Definitions

Before delving into the cost-benefit calculus of studying race, it might help to define race. Howard Winant (2000) defines race as “a concept that signifies and symbolizes sociopolitical conflicts and interests in reference to different types of human bodies” (172) and points out that categorizing races based on physical characteristics is a social, historical, and political process that is both imprecise and often arbitrary (172). This definition makes it clear how race can be a dynamic concept that changes over time and place, as Alexandra Guisinger noted in the webinar. Race theory is continually evolving (Pettigrew 1980a, 1980b; McKee 1993; Omi and Winant 1994), with multiple and sometimes contradictory theories that understand race to be a collective ethnic identity, a class-based categorization, and/or a geopolitical designation (Wimmer 2013; Brubaker 2009; Kivisto 2008; Dancygier 2010). Race is a social construct, and therefore the term race, as well as different groups considered to be races, carries varying meaning across societies and academic disciplines.

For readers seeking a clearer concept of the field of international political economy, I adopt an inclusive definition of IPE research as work that investigates the political causes and/or consequences of international-level economic phenomena (such growth, globalization, or poverty) or economic policy (such as trade, finance, monetary policy, or foreign aid). Rather than designate a specific theoretical problem we should seek to solve by considering race, I instead use the calculus below to offer examples of the variety of mechanisms and processes that the consideration of race could help us understand. The meaning of race to IPE is up to each of us to decide.

Cost

How much would it cost to consider race as a key factor driving or affected by trade, debt, foreign development assistance, monetary and financial policy, or migration? As Andy Baker pointed out in the panel, most of our work accounts empirically for race and/or ethnicity already; measuring race should not be costly. The cost we face would be in extra time spent theorizing about race and how it conditions experiences and shapes economic attitudes, and then using those theories to expand our empirical investigations to focus on race. In short, we need to do the work necessary to bring race from a control variable to a key explanatory variable.

Such work would take time and energy, but we are fortunate that other disciplines and subfields have spent a lot of time working on the idea. We know, for example, that identity characteristics like race affect both our political socialization and the way we perceive political and economic events in the world. Race affects our trust in each other and in government (Hetherington and Globetti 2002; Marschall and Stolle 2004), our assessment of the performance of public officials in key events like disasters (Reinhardt 2015a; Koliba, Mills, and Zia 2011), and our own sense of place and space (Light and Harris 2012; Falk, Hunt, and Hunt 2006). And because we know that these factors are determinants of our worldviews and decisions moving forward, we also know that race drives decisions about migration (Reinhardt 2015b; Burrell et al. 2019; Erel, Murji, and Nahaboo 2016; Berg 2017; Kaur 2004; Silverstein 2005; Fussell, Sastry, and VanLandingham 2010), investment (Rajaram 2018; Findlay and Lundahl 1987; Shin and Hanna 2015; Gutter and Fontes 2006), and political participation (Bobo and Gilliam Jr 1990; Bueno and Fialho 2009; Leighley and Vedlitz 1999; Verba et al. 1993; Fairdosi and Rogowski 2015; Anoll 2018).

Beliefs about merit, tradition, redistribution, and relationships between and among countries and areas of the world are imbued with judgments about race and class. It should not be a very large cost, then, to bring insights from work on race into IPE. As Maha Rafi Atal notes in this issue, critical race theory (CRT) is a lens for examining race that is already well suited to an IPE perspective (Atal 2021). Her compelling argument for considering “whiteness as property” illuminates the idea that, although race may be constructed differently across time and space, it may be materialized similarly. This perspective opens new avenues for investigating IPE puzzles. Is a propensity or willingness to trade with or send development aid to other countries fundamentally about beliefs in what people in those countries are worth? Do decisions about multilateral finance, assistance, debt relief, and trade sanctions depend on actors’ perceptions of the benefits of a world order that reconceptualizes race and the value of whiteness (or nonwhiteness) in a particular way? Should we view the property of race as a factor endowment for an individual or a nation-state?

Benefit

Any cost must be offset by a benefit if a change in scholarship is to be worthwhile. Luckily, the potential benefits to giving specific attention to race in IPE are manifold. As a social construct, acknowledging the role of race in IPE opens a wealth of possibilities for investigation. Race varies in meaning and salience across cultures and geopolitical borders. Because group vulnerabilities are often based on race, the effects of globalization are likely to be conditional on race, and as a research field, we know very little about those conditions. Such issues can be investigated with field experiments, as Andy Baker suggested, as well as survey experiments using indirect questioning techniques (Chaudhuri and Christofides 2013) and more standard observational studies that examine subnational identity-based categories as units of analysis rather than nation-states.

Even more benefits lie waiting amid grant funding opportunities, which often prioritize work based on vulnerable groups, including those based on gender and race. We know from research into political behavior that identities based on race, gender, and class intersect to jointly construct each other (Shields 2008). Work on intersectionality shows a profound difference between the experience of minority-race women versus minority-race men, for example, in terms of redistribution, trust, power, and economic and human rights (Reinhardt 2019; Randall 2016; “A Union of Equality: EU Anti-Racism Action Plan 2020-2025” n.d.). Though race is, at its heart, about identity, racial discrimination is structurally supported by laws and systems that allow discriminatory treatment to persist. Bringing an IPE approach to interrogate these structures will open doors to funding around the world (“Social, Political and Economic Inequality | RSF” n.d.; “Soros Equality Fellowship” n.d.; Marketing Communications: Web // University of Notre Dame n.d.).

Studying race in IPE can also help make the field more diverse and inclusive. Scholars who study race and racial discrimination are found throughout many subfields of economics and political science, including comparative politics, American politics, judicial politics, political behavior, labor economics, economic policy, health and welfare economics, public economics, and economic history. Some scholars investigate race and IPE topics in interdisciplinary fields, such as environmental studies, disaster studies, human rights, public health, and public policy. To fail to consider race in IPE signals to these scholars, and to early-career researchers, that the subfield as a whole has little interest in the work they do or the perspectives they bring. We risk remaining ignorant not only of the way race factors into political economy processes but also of the enrichment a diverse group of scholars can bring to any work.

For some, the most important benefits of examining race as a key explanatory IPE variable will be the material, expressive, associative, and psychological benefits that come from responding to a normative imperative to study race, as well as the implications such work can have on human rights and civil rights in various parts of the world. This exigency is one of the key reasons so much research funding is available to study discrimination—the drive is based on the acknowledgment that globalization, growth, and social and economic development have brought varying levels of wealth and hardship based on group characteristics such as race, gender, and class. Research that considers race as a key determinant of economic and political processes and outcomes thus could not only fulfill a personal desire to contribute to the pursuit of equity in human rights but also contribute concrete advice and recommendations that help advance an important policy goal.

Probability

Of course, the cost and benefit of studying race in IPE must be weighted by the probability of such work being “successful.” In a sector where new applications and tests of existing models, and new ways to think about known processes, are rewarded with widely available funding possibilities, swift publication, and multiple citations, the probability of success by engaging in rigorous, thoughtful work on race in IPE is high. Collaborating with scholars already studying race and racial discrimination will boost the probability of the work revealing important insights while making the field more inclusive. As Rachel Wellhausen (2021) aptly notes in this collection, there is space for each of us to examine race in the context of IPE, and doing so does not redistribute the pie but instead expands it. It is likely that such work will attract new graduate students, and that early-career researchers pursuing this work will be marketable for posts ranging from academic IPE positions to positions seeking diversity, equity, and inclusion specialists in schools of interdisciplinary programs and research clusters in international financial and monetary organizations.

Total Expected Value

Each scholar’s final decision calculus regarding whether to study race in IPE must, of course, depend on opportunity costs and personal benefits that I do not address here. Just as we expect racial discrimination to be structurally perpetuated, so should we also address the structure within IPE that currently dissuades race as a topic of study. The probability of success of conducting research in race and IPE could be heightened by a variety of means, including calls for special issue contributions on race in IPE from top journals, designated panels on race in IPE at prominent conferences that call for papers in advance and advertise broadly, and outreach to scholars of political economy in the Global South and institutions that are underrepresented on our mailing lists to share information about what we do, how we do it, and why they might be interested in doing it too. Ultimately, it is time to acknowledge that no matter how much time our research has spent quantifying cultural attributes, we cannot and must not ignore the role that in-group and out-group preferences, costs, and benefits play in an individual’s political and economic decisions, or the translation of those decisions to macro-level trends and international interactions—all elements that are fundamentally and inextricably linked to race.

Competing Interests

The author has no competing interests to declare.

Author Biography

Gina Yannitell Reinhardt studies how citizens and policy makers make decisions under uncertainty, and how those decisions affect economic, social, and political development and subsequent policy outcomes. She focuses on projects designed to build resilience to disasters and aid disaster recovery, principally by addressing interpersonal and political trust. Gina evaluates local and international programmes in an effort to understand how financing can be judiciously allocated to help avert, alleviate, mitigate, and manage disasters, particularly those related to climate change, but also including technological and other disasters. She is committed to helping build local research and policy capacity in the Global South, and is currently curating a series of symposia on Structuring Inclusion into the Discipline of Political Science for PS: Political Science and Politics.

References

“A Union of Equality: EU Anti-Racism Action Plan 2020-2025.” n.d. European Web Site on Integration. Accessed November 16, 2020. https://ec.europa.eu/migrant-integration/librarydoc/a-union-of-equality-eu-anti-racism-action-plan-2020-2025.
Anoll, Allison P. 2018. “What Makes a Good Neighbor? Race, Place, and Norms of Political Participation.” American Political Science Review 112 (3): 494–508. https://doi.org/10.1017/S0003055418000175.
Atal, Maha Rafi. 2021. “Measuring the Wages of Whiteness: A Project for Political Economists.” Global Perspectives 2 (1). https://doi.org/10.1525/gp.2021.22154.
Berg, Ulla D. 2017. Mobile Selves: Race, Migration, and Belonging in Peru and the US. Vol. 3. NYU Press.
Bobo, Lawrence, and Franklin D. Gilliam Jr. 1990. “Race, Sociopolitical Participation, and Black Empowerment.” The American Political Science Review, 377–93.
Brubaker, Rogers. 2009. “Ethnicity, Race, and Nationalism.” Annual Review of Sociology 35: 21–42.
Bueno, Natália Salgado, and Fabrício Mendes Fialho. 2009. “RACE, RESOURCES, AND POLITICAL PARTICIPATION IN A BRAZILIAN CITY.” Latin American Research Review 44 (2): 59–83.
Burrell, Kathy, Peter Hopkins, Arshad Isakjee, Colin Lorne, Caroline Nagel, Robin Finlay, Anoop Nayak, Matthew C. Benwell, Raksha Pande, and Michael Richardson. 2019. “Brexit, Race and Migration.” Environment and Planning C: Politics and Space 37 (1): 3–40.
Chaudhuri, Arijit, and Tasos C. Christofides. 2013. “Indirect Techniques as Alternatives to Randomized Response.” In Indirect Questioning in Sample Surveys, 115–49. Springer.
Dancygier, Rafaela M. 2010. Immigration and Conflict in Europe. Cambridge University Press.
Erel, Umut, Karim Murji, and Zaki Nahaboo. 2016. “Understanding the Contemporary Race–Migration Nexus.” Ethnic and Racial Studies 39 (8): 1339–60.
Fairdosi, Amir Shawn, and Jon C. Rogowski. 2015. “Candidate Race, Partisanship, and Political Participation: When Do Black Candidates Increase Black Turnout?” Political Research Quarterly, March. https://doi.org/10.1177/1065912915577819.
Falk, William W., Matthew O. Hunt, and Larry L. Hunt. 2006. “HURRICANE KATRINA AND NEW ORLEANIANS’SENSE OF PLACE: Return and Reconstitution or ‘Gone with the Wind’?” Du Bois Review: Social Science Research on Race 3 (1): 115–28.
Findlay, Ronald, and Mats Lundahl. 1987. “Racial Discrimination, Dualistic Labor Markets and Foreign Investment.” Journal of Development Economics 27 (1–2): 139–48.
Fussell, Elizabeth, Narayan Sastry, and Mark VanLandingham. 2010. “Race, Socioeconomic Status, and Return Migration to New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.” Population and Environment 31 (1–3): 20–42.
Gutter, Michael S., and Angela Fontes. 2006. “Racial Differences in Risky Asset Ownership: A Two-Stage Model of the Investment Decision-Making Process.” Journal of Financial Counseling and Planning 17 (2).
Hetherington, Marc J., and Suzanne Globetti. 2002. “Political Trust and Racial Policy Preferences.” American Journal of Political Science, 253–75.
Kaur, Amarjit. 2004. “Crossing Frontiers: Race, Migration and Borders in Southeast Asia.” IJMS: International Journal on Multicultural Societies.
Kivisto, Peter. 2008. Multiculturalism in a Global Society. John Wiley & Sons.
Koliba, Christopher J., Russell M. Mills, and Asim Zia. 2011. “Accountability in Governance Networks: An Assessment of Public, Private, and Nonprofit Emergency Management Practices Following Hurricane Katrina.” Public Administration Review 71 (2): 210–20. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1540-6210.2011.02332.x.
Leighley, Jan E., and Arnold Vedlitz. 1999. “Race, Ethnicity, and Political Participation: Competing Models and Contrasting Explanations.” The Journal of Politics 61 (4): 1092–1114. https://doi.org/10.2307/2647555.
Light, Michael T., and Casey T. Harris. 2012. “Race, Space, and Violence: Exploring Spatial Dependence in Structural Covariates of White and Black Violent Crime in US Counties.” Journal of Quantitative Criminology 28 (4): 559–86.
Marketing Communications: Web // University of Notre Dame. n.d. “Apply for Visiting Research Fellowships // Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies // University of Notre Dame.” Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies. Accessed November 16, 2020. https://kroc.nd.edu/research/grants-and-fellowships/apply-for-visiting-research-fellowships/.
Marschall, Melissa J., and Dietlind Stolle. 2004. “Race and the City: Neighborhood Context and the Development of Generalized Trust.” Political Behavior 26 (2): 125–53.
McKee, James B. 1993. Sociology and the Race Problem: The Failure of a Perspective. University of Illinois Press.
Omi, Michael, and Howard Winant. 1994. Racial Formation in the US: From the 1960s to the 1990s. New York, NY: Routledge.
Pettigrew, Thomas F. 1980a. The Changing–Not Declining–Significance of Race. JSTOR.
———. 1980b. The Sociology of Race Relations. Simon and Schuster.
Rajaram, Prem Kumar. 2018. “Refugees as Surplus Population: Race, Migration and Capitalist Value Regimes.” New Political Economy 23 (5): 627–39.
Randall, Vicky. 2016. “Intersecting Identities: Old Age and Gender in Local Party Politics.” Parliamentary Affairs 69 (3): 531–47. https://doi.org/10.1093/pa/gsv061.
Reinhardt, Gina Yannitell. 2015a. “First-Hand Experience and Second-Hand Information: Changing Trust across Three Levels of Government.” Review of Policy Research 32 (3): 345–64.
———. 2015b. “Race, Trust, and Return Migration: The Political Drivers of Post-Disaster Resettlement.” Political Research Quarterly 68 (2): 350–62.
———. 2019. “The Intersectionality of Disasters’ Effects on Trust in Public Officials.” Social Science Quarterly 100 (7): 2567–80.
Shields, Stephanie A. 2008. “Gender: An Intersectionality Perspective.” Sex Roles 59 (5): 301–11. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11199-008-9501-8.
Shin, Su Hyun, and Sherman D. Hanna. 2015. “Decomposition Analyses of Racial/Ethnic Differences in High Return Investment Ownership after the Great Recession.” Journal of Financial Counseling and Planning 26 (1): 43–62.
Silverstein, Paul A. 2005. “Immigrant Racialization and the New Savage Slot: Race, Migration, and Immigration in the New Europe.” Annual Review of Anthropology 34: 363.
“Social, Political and Economic Inequality | RSF.” n.d. Accessed November 16, 2020. https://www.russellsage.org/research/funding/social-inequality.
“Soros Equality Fellowship.” n.d. Accessed November 16, 2020. https://www.opensocietyfoundations.org/grants/soros-equality-fellowship.
Verba, Sidney, Kay Lehman Schlozman, Henry Brady, and Norman H. Nie. 1993. “Race, Ethnicity and Political Resources: Participation in the United States.” British Journal of Political Science 23 (4): 453–97.
Wellhausen, Rachel L. 2021. “Identity’s Centrality in IPE: The Example of Indigeneity.” Global Perspectives 2 (1). https://doi.org/10.1525/gp.2021.22151.
Wimmer, Andreas. 2013. Ethnic Boundary Making: Institutions, Power, Networks. Oxford University Press.
Winant, Howard. 2000. “Race and Race Theory.” Annual Review of Sociology 26: 169–85.