Measuring Social Change as Categorical Change: Race and Education in America

Jeff Smith, Duke University - Sociology Department
Sociologists often depict demographic categories as socially constructed, non-essential, and fluid. In practice, however, social trends still typically reflect the changing outcomes(e.g. health, income) of fixed, exogenous demographic categories. The goal of this dissertation is to bridge the gap between rhetoric and practice by offering a new framework for measuring social dynamics in a population. The proposed framework makes the categories themselves the key measure of social change.Here, demographic categories are seen as proxies for social locations, describing where individuals are allowed to go and who they are allowed to interact with. Different categories may come to represent the same behavioral limitations, or social locations, at different time points, and I use these changes to measure social change. Formally, I use interaction data and models of social space and social distance to place demographic categories into social locations. I then use those locations to equate the categories over time. Empirically, I examine changes in education and race using the proposed approach and census marriage data from 1940-2000. I explain how changes in educational categories vary by (social) racial locations, and how this racial structuring of education has varied over time. I thus use changes in the educational categories to characterize the racial stratification system-where different racial groups play different (or no) roles in determining the social meaning of education.
October, 2 2012 | 12:30 - 2:00 | 329 Soc/Psych Building (McKinney Room)

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