Political Science Now

New Data, New Knowledge, New Politics: Race, Color, and Class Inequality in Latin America

“The first decades of the twenty-first century witnessed an unprecedented transformation of the data infrastructure for research on racial, ethnic, and color inequalities in Latin America.”

Chapter 5: New Data, New Knowledge, New Politics: Race, Color, and Class Inequality in Latin America

Mara Loveman, University of California, Berkeley

The political landscape and data infrastructure for social scientific research on race, color, and class inequality in Latin America changed dramatically in the first two decades of the twenty-first century. As recently as the 1980s, the majority of Latin American countries lacked any nationally representative survey data that included information about individual racial identification or color. The absence of this data in most of the region obstructed systematic and comparative research on racial inequality in the Americas. By 2015, in contrast, large-scale social surveys that included information about racial identification or color existed in almost every country in the region. The “datascape” for research and analysis of racial and color and class stratification in Latin American countries has been transformed; this transformation has opened the gates to a flood of new research about racial, color, and class inequalities in Latin America. New data are generating new knowledge about the connections between socioeconomic and ethnoracial inequalities. New data are also fueling political conflicts, as debates about how to count and classify ethnic and racial populations in largescale social surveys become inextricably tied to broader and long-standing political struggles over rights and redress for historically marginalized populations.

This chapter describes the rapid reconfiguration of the political and data landscape for social scientific research on racial, color, and class inequality in Latin American at the beginning of the twenty-first century. First, it provides an overview of the transformation of available data for research on racial and color inequality in Latin America in recent years. Considered in historical perspective, the very existence of these new data represents a significant political accomplishment. Next, some of the most striking findings about race, color, and class inequality, and the relationships between these axes of stratification, that have emerged from the initial wave of analyses of these data, are explored. The chapter concludes with a preliminary assessment of the implications of both the unprecedented data collection efforts and the flood of new empirical findings for the politics of ethnoracial and class inequality in contemporary Latin America.