This was prepared by students for the August 2014 Prelim. The faculty (Katherine Curtis, Pamela Oliver, and Mustafa Emirbayer) accepted the proposal and added some clarifications, which have been included in the text below. The rest of the standing committee also had the opportunity to review this document in Spring 2015.


Scope of the Exam:

Below is the topic list (in alphabetical order). The descriptions are not comprehensive. We believe these topics to be fair game based on spring 2014 prelim meeting, last year’s prelim reading list, previous prelim questions, conversations with Pamela Oliver, and what is covered Mara Loveman and Mustafa Emirbayer’s syllabi.


  1. Attitudes & Prejudice: Role of ethnic attitudes, stereotypes, and preferences within institutions and organizations.
  2. Assimilation: patterns, concepts, models, theories, and indicators of assimilation, critiques, segmented assimilation, benchmarks of immigrant assimilation (incorporation and integration).
  3. Class & Race: how do race and class reinforce each other? Is race declining in significance? Does racial and ethnic division or hierarchy hurt all non-elites?
  4. Color Line: how are interracial marriage, multiracial people, immigration changing the nature of race relations in the U.S.?
  5. Discrimination: defining racism, discrimination and prejudice, outlining forms it takes, measuring discrimination, analyzing outcomes and theories for discrimination within various institutions and at multiple levels (i.e. housing, education, labor force, state).
  6. Education: education and attainment patterns and disparities between racial/ethnic groups, including theories and explanations for group differences
  7. Group Size & Position: how absolute or relative size of an ethnic group affects inter-group relations and status within society.
  8. Group & Boundary Making: making in the ethnic/racial context and debates about how this happens; fair game to ask about nationality & religion & language not as separate literatures but to ask whether these are also elements of what may get stirred into a race/ethnic group-making process.
  9. Intersectionality: Theories of race that intersect with other and multiple identities and subject positions (i.e. sex, gender, race, class), and empirical studies in this tradition
  10. Measurement: ways to operationalize or measure race and ethnicity-debates, critiques of measurement, methods, and exemplar models, how the way race is treated in analysis has theoretical consequences. Do you have a “race effect” that is by implication attributable to minorities, or do you study processes of group-making & domination?
  11. Poverty & Wealth: theories on causes of poverty related to race
  12. Racism, Domination & Oppression: Has racism ended? How is racism conceptualized and operationalized?
  13. Segregation: measuring segregation, limitations to different methods for measuring segregation, patterns of segregation for different racial/ethnic groups
  14. Social Construction: social process in the creation and reproduction of ethnic and racial boundaries, role individual and institutional actors play in the social construction of race (i.e. state. see below). Also: defining race and ethnicity.  Historical origins of analytical distinction. Theories of racial formation, conflict and resistance, and group position, providing historical and contemporary examples.
  15. State Race Making & Ethnic Mobilization: Who plays a role in the social construction of race and ethnicity? Do states make race?
  16. Whiteness: key authors, insights, critiques, theories. Concept of white privilege-how it is studied, controversies surrounding it, development, empirical works in this tradition.


Note: In our May 2014 meeting with the committee, we agreed to remove the topic “the welfare state.” (Note that questions about the connection between race and social policy could still be appropriate to the afternoon exam, especially as they relate to topics such as 5, 8, 11, and 15.) Pam also subsequently mentioned that “crime” is both highly specific and possibly redundant in relation to the discrimination and poverty/wealth literature.


On the Morning Structure:

The morning exam will prioritize questions related to debates on: social construction, race and ethnicity, categories and groups, measurement of race and race effects. Our logic is that these are questions that every race scholar should consider. In the past, variations of these questions are virtually always asked, and we think that they should become a standard morning question.


A related point is that variations of the social construction question actually brings together several large debates and could likely be broken down if you deem it appropriate.

  • What does it mean to say that r&e are socially constructed? (including: do most accounts of how race is socially constructed go far enough?)
  • What are the reasons for distinguishing (or not) between r&e (and nation)?
  • How are r&e typically measured and does this match the social constructivist accounts? Is there a tension between measurement and social constructivist accounts? (we’re thinking this includes debates about race effects, race in logistic regression, statistical and theoretical significance etc…)


On the Afternoon Structure:

The afternoon portion of the exam will offer questions drawn from the list of topic areas that the group of students provide. (Please note that not all areas will be represented). Second, you will be asked to respond to two questions from this larger pool of questions.


Note: Students should the committee their collective afternoon topics at least one month in advance.


Background: We envision the afternoon as being focused on more specific topical areas, but with breadth and choice. In her email on May 9, 2014, Pam suggested one model where “the morning exam is for general theoretical debates and might offer less choice while the afternoon exam will be more empirical and should offer more choice.” She also suggests that the “afternoon exam will contain more questions with more choice and will be questions that ask students to address theoretical area or method.”


In order to achieve breadth, Pam’s suggestion was to “Allow students preparing for the exam to list at least two largish empirical or specific theoretical areas that they focus on (e.g. prejudice,education, criminal justice, segregation, immigration, state-making,whiteness). These will be collectively compiled so that individual students are not identified.” We like this suggestion, and pending your approval, we can send the collectively compiled list to the committee.


Some Additional Advice and Guidelines:

Studying for the exam

  1. Instead of memorizing isolated flashcards, think of this as creating for yourself a mental “map” of the field, understanding the relations among works, concepts, and fields of study.
  2. Seek to strike a balance between breadth and depth. While it is impossible for most people to “read everything,” you should have at least some acquaintance with the whole field at the level of what would be covered in an introductory race and ethnicity class, and should have some depth of reading that goes beyond the introductory level in some subareas.
  3. Courses and course syllabi should be seen as starting points for your reading but not as “reading lists” of all you need to read. Our image is that you start from a node and read in an area until you get a sense of what the research and debates are in that area. Ideally you read until you have closure in your reading
  4. Some areas are organized around clear debates or a canon, while others are more diffuse.

Grading guidelines

  1. Four passing answers = exam pass; Two “fail” answers = exam fail; One “fail” answer and three passing answers = exam borderline pass; One “fail” answer and three marginal or borderline answers = exam fail; One “fail” answer and a mixture of passing and marginal or borderline answers or four borderline answers = committee discusses the exam as a whole in rendering a decision
  2. The exam as a whole is evaluated. Summarizing across all the answers, what do they reveal about the breadth and depth of your knowledge and about your capacity to answer questions and construct arguments.

On writing good answers: A passing answer to a question answers the question that was asked in a coherent mini-essay that draws on the relevant literature and uses references to compare, synthesize, draw inferences, and make arguments. Exhibiting knowledge of what different authors said is important, but so too is exhibiting knowledge of relations among different arguments and exhibiting your own ability to comment on what you have read. Another way of saying this is that your answer should demonstrate both accurate knowledge about the literature and competence in writing an essay and making arguments. It is a higher order level of knowledge, not just memorization.

  1. You should answer the question that is asked. Inclusion of irrelevant material can be downgraded. Do not just summarize references; use them in constructing an argument. Answers that are obviously memorized “dumps” of information are downgraded, especially if they do not address the question that was asked.
  2. It is wise to begin your answer by stating your interpretation of what the question is asking you to do, especially if there is any possible ambiguity about this.
  3. A good answer will also typically have a thesis statement in the first paragraph, that is, a statement about the overall argument you will be making in your answer. Alternately, the opening to a good answer will state how you plan to go about answering the question. A concluding paragraph that summarizes your overview answer is good, too.
  4. It is wise to write an outline of your planned answer before embarking on the writing itself. If you run out of time completing the outline and you have competently executed the parts you have written, you may often be given more credit for knowledge than if you merely end abruptly.  This is especially important if you will not be able to write long answers.

While an exam necessarily tests the overlap between what you know and what the examiners know, and figuring out what we know from our syllabi and writings is legitimate, answers that excessively focus on the works of UW faculty or the exam committee are often not well received. We think we are testing your knowledge of the literature, not your ability to pander to our egos.



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