Review Essay: Working With and Against the Concepts of "Race" and "Ethnicity": Research Dilemmas and Tools


  • Hella von Unger Ludwigs-Maximilians-Universität München



race, ethnicity, racialization, racial matching, methodological debate, qualitative social research


With her book "Researching 'Race' and Ethnicity: Methods Knowledge and Power," Yasmin GUNARATNAM makes a thoughtful contribution to the ongoing methodological debate on the concepts of "race" and ethnicity in qualitative research. She addresses some of the central concerns of the debate, including current conceptual approaches and practical research dilemmas involved in working with the concepts of "race" and "ethnicity." Following the tradition of critical "race" studies, she notes the inherent tendency of these concepts to essentialize and naturalize socially constructed differences and suggests analytic approaches that work both with and against these categories. She also comments on the procedure of "racial matching" (of interviewer and participant) and the related North-American debate on "'race'-of-interviewer-effects." Using her own empirical data from an ethnographic study on the construction of "race" and ethnicity in a hospice setting in the UK, she illustrates the complexities of the subject matter and the indispensable value of self-reflexivity in the research process. Shortcomings of the book relate to its occasional conceptual vagueness and proliferation of different theoretical approaches and the resulting lack of a central methodological theme that links the different chapters. However, the book provides a stimulating introduction to the field and constitutes a useful resource for teaching qualitative research methods in the context of "race" and ethnicity. URN: urn:nbn:de:0114-fqs0602210


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Author Biography

Hella von Unger, Ludwigs-Maximilians-Universität München

Hella VON UNGER currently works as a research fellow at the Institute of General Practice at the Otto-von-Guericke University of Madgeburg. She also teaches qualitative research methods in the MA program Intercultural Conflict Management at the Alice-Salomon Fachhochschule in Berlin. From 2000-2004 she worked at Columbia University in New York and in 2005 she completed a PhD in social psychology at the University of Hannover, Germany. Her doctoral dissertation involved a qualitative study on multiple stigmatization experiences of HIV-positive, lesbian and bisexual mothers in New York, a research project that required methodological reflections on doing qualitative research across racial, ethnic and class differences.




How to Cite

von Unger, H. (2006). Review Essay: Working With and Against the Concepts of "Race" and "Ethnicity": Research Dilemmas and Tools. Forum Qualitative Sozialforschung Forum: Qualitative Social Research, 7(2).