Decolonizing Race and Ethnicity: Understanding Racial Formation in Japanese Society

What are race and ethnicity? Students are often taught in social science courses that they are socially constructed categories. But what does that exactly mean? In the United States, race is commonly defined and practiced as a category based on visible phenotypes, whereas ethnicity is based on distinguishable cultural traits. Are these definitions of race and ethnicity globally universal or should they be? In this webinar, I challenge the U.S. and Euro-centric understanding and applications of race and ethnicity. By introducing different theoretical approaches to define race and ethnicity in sociology, I discuss how these concepts should be understood, treated and applied in our analysis. In nutshell, race and ethnicity are malleable categories across time and space; they are subject to change depending on local and global conditions. I explore whether or not a distinction between race and ethnicity is analytically warranted and why discussing racism between groups who share similar phenotypical and cultural traits is not only possible, but important, especially in the context of Japanese society.

Hwaji Shin is Associate Professor of Sociology at the University of San Francisco. Her research is centered in political sociology, with an emphasis on social movements, race and ethnicity, categorical and spatial inequality, globalization, colonialism, and the history, theory and sociology of migration, citizenship, and nationalism.