Re-Framing Poli Sci Textbooks

Inside Higher Ed has a good piece today (written by  Scott Jaschik) about a study that explores the portrayal of black folks in Political Science textbooks.  The study by the American Political Science Association’s Standing Committee on the Status of Blacks in the Profession. The study appears in the January 2008 issue of PS: Political Science & Politics.  Here is a snippet from Inside Higher Ed:

The committee reviewed 27 textbooks used in intro courses, and published or in circulation (in many cases as updated editions of previously issued versions) from 2004 to 2007. Of those texts, 74 percent had a chapter on civil rights, 19 percent combine civil rights and civil liberties, and 7 percent had no specific chapter. For those books with a civil rights chapter, the average number of pages with references to black issues outside of that chapter is 13 — not a large number on books that averaged 569 pages.

‘Our analysis reveals that African Americans’ active participation in America’s political development has been treated as a separate entity from the rest of the country’s development…. [T]extbooks do not discuss African Americans as active agents (if at all) until the civil rights movement, when they are discussed as collective “recipients” of government action,’ says a report on the study by Sherri L. Wallace, an associate professor at the University of Louisville, and Marcus D. Allen, an assistant professor at Wheaton College, in Massachusetts.

In part, the study attributes the relative absence of black people from the texts as reflecting a larger bias in the discipline, in favor of powerful government institutions over less officially powerful (but in many cases extremely important) social movements. “Because political science as a discipline typically studies institutions and elites as decision-makers, it thereby largely ignores the presence and questions of African-American politics,” the report says. One example from the study: If you are searching for an image of a black woman in one of these texts, the person you are most likely to find is Condoleezza Rice.

Although this study focuses on poli sci textbooks, I think an enterprising scholar could replicate this study using intro sociology textbooks and likely come up with similar results.  Given Joe’s work on the white racial frame, it’s interesting that the piece concludes by talking about “new frames” that textbooks should consider adding, such as:

  • The evolution of political parties’ views on slavery.
  • A focus on “race and racial issues in a global context,” noting the interactions among various racial and ethnic groups.
  • Using “the lens of race and ethnicity” more in consideration of political issues.
  • Citing more work by black scholars.

While these are important shifts, I think they don’t go nearly far enough and suggest an internal inconsistency.  If Condoleeza Rice is a troubling image of African-American women in politics,  suggesting that textbook authors are doing something transformative by merely citing more work by black scholars seems a necessary, but not completely sufficient step toward using a “different frame.”   Still, it looks to be a significant study and serves as an example that other disciplines should follow.