Date of Degree

6-2022

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Ph.D.

Program

Sociology

Advisor

Leslie McCall

Committee Members

Mary Clare Lennon

Charles Post

Michael Goldfield

Subject Categories

American Politics | Inequality and Stratification | Models and Methods | Political Economy | Politics and Social Change | Quantitative, Qualitative, Comparative, and Historical Methodologies | Race and Ethnicity | Sociology | Work, Economy and Organizations

Keywords

class and race, economic insecurity, economic self-interest, racial attitudes, Du Bois, political economy

Abstract

This dissertation combines three related essays that analyze the effect of the perception of economic vulnerability on the social and political attitudes of Americans. Through a heterodox reading of W.E.B. Du Bois’s intellectual work and political career in the latter half of his life, the first essay develops the theoretical thrust of the dissertation. It is argued that Du Bois primarily grounds white supremacy in an elementary feature of capitalism: the fact that survival under capitalism presumes the successful engagement, either directly or indirectly, with the labor market. Due to the historical legacy of slavery, however, labor market competition in the United States is highly racialized. Thus, according to Du Bois, white Americans adopt white supremacist ideas and political strategies, at least in part, in an attempt to hoard economic advantage and opportunity. In other words, for Du Bois, white Americans use racial exclusion to assuage the potentially negative consequences of the commodification of labor, that is, economic hardship caused by a lack of employment. Using this reading of Du Bois’s work, the essay explains Du Bois’s political development during the 1930s and 1940s. The following two essays attempt to empirically substantiate Du Bois’s theory using the quantitative analysis of public opinion data. If racial exclusion is at least partially grounded in an attempt to assuage the potentially negative consequences of the commodification of labor, those who perceive themselves to be most economically vulnerable should be most supportive of racially exclusionary attitudes and policies. The second essay illustrates that perceptions of employment insecurity are highly related to anti-immigrant attitudes. The essay also reanalyzes the data of an influential account within the study of immigration attitudes to illustrate methodological issues prevalent in the existing literature. The third and final essay uses a novel and comprehensive four-part measure of economic vulnerability to show that perceptions of economic vulnerability are not only related to attitudes toward immigrants, but are also robustly related to increased levels of racial resentment and the increased perception of interracial economic competition. More broadly, it is also shown that perceptions of economic vulnerability have a systematic effect on other aspects of Americans’ public opinion, including their attitudes toward redistribution and class actors.

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