March 2009 Issue • Volume 37 • Issue 3

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The Use of FAD Funds:
Expanding Experimental Investigations of Race/Ethnicity
in Sociology

by Carla Goar, Northern Illinois University and Jane Sell, Texas A&M University

Last year, an ASA Fund for the Advancement of the Discipline Award (FAD) enabled me to organize a two-day conference at Texas A&M University for experimental sociologists to meet and consider how experimental investigations of race/ethnicity might be expanded. The March 1 conference was additionally funded by Texas A&M and Northern Illinois University. Participants from 14 different universities met to consider why there are relatively few experimental sociological studies directly addressing race/ethnicity and how that might be changed. The goals of the conference were to identify perceived incentives and barriers to studying aspects of race/ethnicity experimentally and to map out a set of topics, recognized as important by both micro- and macro-sociologists, that can be investigated experimentally. Lastly, the organizers sought to foster collaborations between established experimenters and new experimenters to assist in developing designs and working through practical aspects of experimental studies on topics of race and ethnicity.

In the past, experimental sociology has contributed to important theoretical developments relevant to understanding race and ethnicity issues. These have included identity processes, trust and cooperation perceptions and behavior, issues related to emotion and affect, stereotyping and labeling, differential reward allocation, status expectations, and legitimacy. But there have been surprisingly few recent additions to the empirical literature on race and ethnicity and little direct reference to these theoretical additions in the race/ethnicity literature. To address this gap, each conference participant submitted a short statement prior to the conference that addressed the following items: Why there is relatively little experimental research on race/ethnicity; and initial formulations of general or specific proposals for studies of race/ethnicity in the participant’s area.

Conference Topics

The first morning session focused on the reasons that might explain why race/ethnicity has been investigated less often using experimental methods. Some reasons discussed included the incongruent meanings of race in group interactions, problems with experimental control, the demographic characteristics of subject pools, the underrepresentation of minority experimenters, and trust concerns between researchers and subjects. The afternoon session focused on brainstorming different approaches to studying race/ethnicity using experiments. Ideas included the use of creative manipulations to denote race/ethnicity, the examination of status characteristic "clusters" as a means to understand race/ethnicity, and the use of photographs and images to create racial categories.

The second morning was spent discussing possible experimental designs and potential cooperation among researchers and laboratories. To date, two experimental laboratories are planning a parallel experiment that focuses on race and further cooperation is planned. We hope such collaborations will help strengthen professional relations among experimental sociologists and attract other sociologists (graduate students, in particular) and interest them in incorporating experimental design on race/ethnicity into their research agendas. logo_small

For information on ASA’s Fund for the Advancement of the Discipline, see the ASA Funding page at


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