Racial Projects in Black Box Societies

From Omi and Winant to Pasquale in Pictures

In our Digital Sociology graduate seminar at Virginia Commonwealth University, we are working on how to systematically study how racial categories derive their meaning in a digital society.

We started with what I call “high” theory. That’s the big, grand theories of how our world works. We do Fuchs and also some Castells. We also try to link that to classics like Durkheim (ie solidarity and density) and Marx/Weber (i.e. iron cages and capital).

But it is hard to do research projects in those waters. For that we turn to middle theories, like Omi and Winant’s theory of racial projects and Pasquale’s theoretical framework for how black boxes organize our digital society.

After some brainstorming about mechanisms in Pasquale’s work, I tasked students with visualizing these mechanisms as racial projects.

They revolted.

I engaged a little shaming technique and upped their response rate to a cool 50%.

It’s okay. That’s a normal teaching day mid-semester.

Plus, I know it is hard.

I hate pictures. That’s a real problem for a digital sociologist because the internet loves pictures and images of all kinds.

I am text person. That’s why I slay Twitter and not snapchat. But, as they say where I am from, there is a lid for every pot.

Still, I wanted to do this exercise with my students to show them how I would tackle it but also to show that getting out of our comfort zone was exactly the point. All kinds of things can happen to our thinking when we challenge how we think.

So, without further ado, here is my inforgraphic on how black boxes organize racial projects in a digital society.

If you’ve been following along at home, you can read more on our sporadically updated Digital Sociology course blog.

Digital Sociology at VCU

The Digital Sociology Magazine is the public-facing community of the digital sociology program in the Department of Sociology at Virginia Commonwealth University. We study intersecting inequalities in the digital society. http://digital.sociology.vcu.edu

Tressie McMillan Cottom

Written by

Award-winning sociologist, professor, and writer. Faculty associate at Berkman Center for Internet & Society. Newest book, THICK, out now. www.ThickTheBook.com

Digital Sociology at VCU

The Digital Sociology Magazine is the public-facing community of the digital sociology program in the Department of Sociology at Virginia Commonwealth University. We study intersecting inequalities in the digital society. http://digital.sociology.vcu.edu