UBC Faculty Research and Publications

Methodological pitfalls of measuring race : International comparisons and repurposing of statistical categories Roth, Wendy D.


Official statistics are political creations more than theoretically-guided concepts. The papers in this panel make this exceptionally clear, as does the work of many others (e.g., Loveman 2014; Nobles 2000; Prewitt 2013). This means that official measures of race in countries around the world are unlikely to be guided by theoretical concern for distinguishing the different dimensions that are all embedded under the umbrella term: “race”. Furthermore, categories created for official statistics or national censuses can take on a life of their own. They can be applied to new contexts and inform public debates beyond their original demographic or political purposes. Here, I argue that the need for theoretical clarity across dimensions of race is magnified by comparisons across national contexts. I also discuss, using the example of the Canadian measure of “visible minorities” how the repurposing of statistical categories can create its own methodological pitfalls in measuring distinct dimensions of race.

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