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Chapter 17 - Chicago Sociology

from Part III - Literary and Intellectual Contexts

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  08 July 2021

Michael Nowlin
Affiliation:
University of Victoria, British Columbia
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Summary

When Richard Wright read deeply in the social sciences, he became informally trained in the Chicago school of sociology led by Robert Park. Chicago sociology was an antidote to the idea of race. It replaced the dominant view of group-based identity as determined by race with a truer view of group-based identity determined by culture and environment: a paradigm of culture as not immutable, genetically inherited, natural, and hierarchical, but rather as malleable, learned, conventionally arbitrary, and relative. This social science vision undergirded his fiction, especially his most famous novel Native Son. But while Chicago sociology denied white racial superiority, it tended to accept white cultural supremacy, a contention shared by the legal strategy that led to Brown v. Board of Education and desegregation. Critics have frequently misunderstood Wright as a progenitor of late twentieth-century multicultural literature. That recognition more properly belongs to Wright’s rival Zora Neale Hurston, who had a different social-science-inspired model of minority culture that allowed her to see African American culture as healthy, continually creative, adaptive, and long-enduring.

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Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2021

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