If you missed our Reddit AMA with Professor Fabio Rojas last week, fear not! We’ve taken the liberty of compiling some of the highlights for your viewing pleasure. You can check out the whole thing here.
Dr. Rojas is a Professor of Sociology at Indiana University Bloomington, and the author of From Black Power to Black Studies: How a Radical Social Movement Became an Academic Discipline (2007, The Johns Hopkins University Press). More recently, he is also the author of Theory for the Working Sociologist (2017, Columbia University Press). His research has focused on organizational behavior, political sociology, higher education, and health policy.
Professor Rojas has also appeared on Learn Liberty Live, sharing his expertise on the history of the civil rights movement.


What is government’s proper role in race relations? Has government done more to help or hurt our progress towards unity and understanding?


When the state ensures the protection of all people in society, it is a great help. When the state is asked to choose and pick certain people, then it can be problematic.


What is your opinion of race relations today and to what do you credit the current state?


I believe that we are in much better shape than we were decades ago. For example, legalized segregation is thankfully a thing of the past. It is hard to find people who would say that we would be better off returning to the pre-Civil Rights era. At the same time, there are some bad developments. For example, mass incarceration mainly affects African Americans and Latinos. There is also the issue of immigration. The harsh and draconian immigration policies of the last few years have fallen mainly on Mexican and Central American migrants. So, yes, I am clearly happy that we live in a post-Civil Rights world. It is a huge improvement. At the same time, there is still a lot of work to be done.

In terms of causes, there are many. Scholars who study mass incarceration note that it stems from concerns about drugs, harsh sentencing aimed at specific populations, and the public’s willingness to tolerate these policies.


Hi professor,
What role does class play in race relations?
Have you ever experienced an uncomfortable situation/setting when discussing your research or race in general with a group ? Thanks


1) Among sociologists, it is commonly believed that social class can change racial dynamics. For example, a wealthy person may feel less discrimination than a working class person.

2) Yes. I think a lot of academic feel uncomfortable talking about race. But we work hard at trying to be professional when discussing sensitive topics.


Hello Professor Rojas,
A question for you on sociology more broadly: why do you think it is that insights from some of the 20th century’s greatest economists (particularly Hayek and Mises) haven’t seen a great deal of penetration into the discipline, when it seems like they would be highly relevant and informative to so many of the questions that sociologists grapple with today?


Another great question. Here are my thoughts: a lot of sociology was initially framed as a response or critique to industrialization. So, you would not expect a lot of sociologist to embrace economic theory. But, at the same time, there seems to be a lot of similarity between some types of economics and sociology. For example, Hayek’s most important idea is that society is a spontaneous order built from evolved norms and relationships. This is very similar to modern sociology, which sees society as built up from a web of decentralized social relations. I hope that there can be more contact between sociology and various schools of economics, such as Austrianism.


Great answer, thanks!

To go a little bit further, do you see an interplay between concepts from behavioral economics and public choice economics, and the models that are used in the field of sociology? And do you see these ideas having an influence on the sociology field in the future?


Is there a huge opportunity for public choice and behavioral economics to impact sociology? Absolutely. Sociologists are very comfortable with describing agents who have biases and misaligned incentives. Sadly, there seems to be a cultural divide between economists and sociologists, where we see each other as competitors rather than allies. I hope that will change.


Many classical liberals charge that some civil rights legislation violates the rights White Americans. They see affirmative action as legal discrimination against Whites, the outlawing of racially restrictive covenants as infringing freedom of association, etc. Do they have a point? Shouldn’t private citizens and businesses have the right to discriminate?


You have to be careful here. There is generally not legislation that mandates affirmative action. For example, the 1964 Civil Rights Act does not mention it. Affirmative action is a range of policies developed by private and public groups to address real and perceived discrimination. In my personal view, some types are more justified than others. For example, some institutions have tried to set up quota systems, which seems unwise to me. However, in other cases affirmative action means that the decision maker (a college admissions committee) consider that people from certain economic or social backgrounds may not have identical opportunities (e.g., not all high schools have AP courses). Being more sensitive in college admission to the fact that many African Americans don’t come from well funded high schools seems like a reasonable thing to consider.


In my English class, we spent last week contrasting various speeches from the Civil Rights movement. We ended up talking a lot about the role of the media in presenting direct actions to the American public, and how MLK’s brand of civil disobedience wouldn’t have been nearly so effective without the eyes of the news cameras immortalizing their bravery and self-control.
Do you feel that movements like Black Lives Matter are leveraging media technology as effectively as their forebears? Has the recent concern over partisan reporting and fake news influenced how social justice advocates are perceived by the general public?


It is different now than in 1965. Back then, people were just learning how to use TV as a way to project a movement. Now, everyone is way more experienced. Also, in an age of social media, people get desensitized.


What’s a book that’s easy to comprehend that you recommend for someone who is new to sociology?


Great question! I might recommend some of Malcolm Gladwell’s books. I may not agree with everything he has written, but he is great at explaining social science, and sociology in particular, in a way that is accessible. I might also recommend a book like Six Degrees of Separation or Connected, which presents social network analysis (an important part of sociology) in an accessible way. Matt Desmond’s Evicted is a nice example of recent work that explores the effect of poverty on people, focusing on housing.