The Ironies of Affirmative Action; Politics, Culture, and Justice in America

Overview

Affirmative action has been fiercely debated for more than a quarter of a century, producing much partisan literature, but little serious scholarship and almost nothing on its cultural and political origins. The Ironies of Affirmative Action is the first book-length, comprehensive, historical account of the development of affirmative action.

Analyzing both the resistance from the Right and the support from the Left, Skrentny brings to light the unique moral culture that has ...

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Overview

Affirmative action has been fiercely debated for more than a quarter of a century, producing much partisan literature, but little serious scholarship and almost nothing on its cultural and political origins. The Ironies of Affirmative Action is the first book-length, comprehensive, historical account of the development of affirmative action.

Analyzing both the resistance from the Right and the support from the Left, Skrentny brings to light the unique moral culture that has shaped the affirmative action debate, allowing for starkly different policies for different citizens. He also shows, through an analysis of historical documents and court rulings, the complex and intriguing political circumstances which gave rise to these controversial policies.

By exploring the mystery of how it took less than five years for a color-blind policy to give way to one that explicitly took race into account, Skrentny uncovers and explains surprising ironies: that affirmative action was largely created by white males and initially championed during the Nixon administration; that many civil rights leaders at first avoided advocacy of racial preferences; and that though originally a political taboo, almost no one resisted affirmative action.

With its focus on the historical and cultural context of policy elites, The Ironies of Affirmative Action challenges dominant views of policymaking and politics.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Most of those who debate affirmative action, notes University of Pennsylvania sociologist Skrentny, don't examine how the issue emerged. Thus, his textured, lucid explication of a complex controversy is a vital contribution to American political discourse. The Right proclaims color blindness; however, its members condone other preferential policies, such as those for veterans. The Left, which once also embraced color blindness, never lobbied for affirmative action; instead, it was the work of white male government and business elites. Skrentny describes how the color-blind model, at least until the early '60s, was thought to lead to black equality. But meritocratic procedures don't always work Thus in response to urban riots, black nationalism and Cold War pressures, affirmative action seemed a solution. Also, the author adds, the policywhich produced measurable hiring statisticsfit into the pragmatism of government agencies pressured by civil rights groups. Soon affirmative action became linked, in public discourse and court decisions, to older civil rights or equality traditions. The author offers no policy prescriptions; rather, he suggests that global changesincluding the end of the Cold War and the rise of nationalismhave made arguing against affirmative action popular. Apr.
Library Journal
Skrentny (sociology, Univ. of Pennsylvania) provides a fresh institutional perspective on the political and cultural origins of affirmative-action policies for African Americans from 1964 to 1971. Showing that policymakers held two different cultural models about affirmative actioncolor-blind and race-conscioushe argues that groups on the Right and Left used this controversy to define American moral values. This comprehensive, nonideological historical analysis reveals many ironic twists between these models and moral values. In conclusion, Skrentny shows that affirmative action emerged from complex patterns of cultural and institutional politics. Skrentny's thoughtful and thorough work is highly recommended for academic social policy collections.Steven Puro, St. Louis Univ.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780226761787
  • Publisher: University of Chicago Press
  • Publication date: 4/1/1996
  • Series: Morality and Society Series Series
  • Edition description: 1
  • Pages: 326
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 0.70 (d)

Meet the Author

John David Skrentny is associate professor of sociology at the University of California, San Diego. He is the author of The Ironies of Affirmative Action: Politics, Culture, and Justice in America, also published by the University of Chicago Press.

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Table of Contents

Preface
1: The Ironies of Affirmative Action
2: The Appeal of Color-Blindness
3: American Justice, Acceptable Preference, and the Boundaries of
Legitimate Policymaking
4: Crisis Management through Affirmative Action
5: Administrative Pragmatism and the Affirmative Action Solution
6: Affirmative Action as Tradition
7: Creative Destruction in the Nixon Administration
8: Conclusion: Culture, Politics and Affirmative Action
Notes

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