Scope and Scale of Race and Ethnic Relations
The first important methodological issue is associated with the dimension and definition of the variable. Comparative researchers have fundamentally agreed that race and ethnic relations must be studied as a sufficiently ‘large structure’ (e.g., entire nations such as the U.S. and Japan), which is large enough to encompass the entire unit of analysis as the main explanatory focus of macro-social influences (Berting et al. 1979, Fredrickson 1987, Ragin 1995). Therefore, race and ethnic relations are defined as a sense of group position that involves more than one particular group in a society (Stone 2003). However, the complexities of substantiating the variable are seen in the way different racial and ethnic groups are contextualized in a large national discourse. In fact, there are both conflicting and interchangeable remarks regarding the concept of race and ethnic relations.
The first major argument is that group relations have to be analyzed in terms of relative power, or minority groups are not to be depicted in isolation from the majority group in a society (e.g., Barth 1969, Schermerhorn 1978 , Stone and Dennis 1985, 2003, Hudson 1999). For example, Abrams (1982, 248) states:
The bringing to life of the possibility of Sambo as an actual typical identity was a work of collaboration between slaves and masters – the working-out of primitively human identities for both within the framework of the inhuman conditions created by the power of the latter.
It is suggested that unilateral interpretation through the experiences of a certain minority group does not constitute a macro-social variable ‘race and ethnic relations’ (Stone and Dennis 2003), because such a viewpoint does not necessarily shape a framework to describe a particular group’s relations with the majority group and the affiliated functions of social institutions. Thus, analyzing the minority and majority groups simultaneously is indispensable, as investigators are able to acknowledge the importance of ‘power’ in their relations. Thus, researchers such as Gelfand and Lee (1973) distinguish the definition of ‘minority-majority’ from that of ‘subordination-domination’. Furthermore, it is suggested that studies of race and ethnic relations ideally encompass all minority groups in a society. Stone (1985, 47) makes an important argument:
A central issue in the comparative sociology of race relations is the manner in which power is distributed among the different groups in society. Few aspects of race relations can be understood without considering the way in which power is exercised throughout society, although it must be recognized that the nature and dynamics of power relationships is an exceedingly complex topic (emphasis added).
The second major argument is that to comprehensively examine race and ethnic relations, one must study the belief and behavior of the majority, rather than the minority (e.g., Hudson 1999). Bowser (1995, 286) argues the central motive for maintaining the race myth is common across nations: ‘to use government and the economy to maintain and justify social stratification where racial identity has a history of being used to confer advantage and disadvantages’. However, there appears to be a shortcoming in this perspective, as the majority group is reluctant to show their privileged status to maintain racial hierarchy (Bonilla-Silva 2001, Stone and Dennis 2003).
A further issue associated with the dimension of the variable is that studying minority-majority relations would not be necessarily sufficient to constitute a macro-social pattern because the ideological aspects of race and ethnicity contain cultural and historical influences as well. This is an important but difficult question because most people have multiple identities that are intertwined based on class, religion, region, and in complex interrelationships with race and ethnicity (Marger 1994, Ryang 1997, Wade 1997, Fredrickson 1998, Wong 1999, Gurr 2000). Moreover, Gurr (1973) argues that researchers must consider the scope of change; which groups in a society are affected by which changes, and to what extent.
The difficulty specifying the scope and scale of the variable is also seen in determining a method (e.g., Smelser 1976), substantive focus (e.g., Ragin 1987), and the unit of analysis. For example, by distinguishing cross-national comparisons from cross-cultural comparisons, Berting et al. (1979) argue that while nations constitute units in the former, ethnic groups within the nations are regarded as the unit in the latter. Bollen et al. (1993) argue that comparative researchers vary in how broadly or restrictively they define the topic.Due to different arguments about the definitions of macroscopic viewpoints (see Gelfand and Lee 1973), Kohn (1987, 721) notes that ‘finding a cross-national difference often requires that we curtain the scope of an interpretation’.
I would suggest an appropriate conceptual race and ethnic relations should utilize a variable at a macro level sufficient enough to represent the power dimensions in the unit of cross-national comparison at large. The major issue appears to be associated with the difficulty in specifying the scope and scale of the core variable ‘race and ethnic relations’, rather than the principles and underlying premises of the comparative method.