Americo Paredes Center for Cultural Studies

John Hartigan

ProfessorPh.D., University of California, Santa Cruz

Director, APCCS
John Hartigan



Whiteness and critical race theory, urban studies, plant sciences and biodiversity, cultural analysis of nonhumans


Research Interests: anthropology of science (comparative study of genomics research in the U.S. and Mexico); ethnography of race (theories, methods, and practice, with an attention to cultural articulations of whiteness); American culture (class and racial discourses, along with questions of cultural form in the U.S. public sphere).


Teaching Interests: Urban cultures; Science, Technology, and Race; Social theory; Ethnography; Ethnicity in North America.


Current Fieldwork: a multisited ethnography of genetics projects involving race in the U.S. and Mexico.

Books and Publications



Odd Tribes Book

2005, Duke University Press, Durham and London

Odd Tribes challenges theories of whiteness and critical race studies by examining the tangles of privilege, debasement, power and stigma that constitute white identity. Considering the relation of phantasmatic cultural forms such as the racial stereotype “white trash” to the actual social conditions of poor whites, John Hartigan Jr. generates new insights into the ways that race, class and gender are fundamentally interconnected. By tracing the historical interplay of stereotypes, popular cultural representations, and the social sciences’ objectifications of poverty, Hartigan demonstrates how constructions of whiteness continually depend on the vigilant maintenance of class and gender decorums.

Odd Tribes engages debates in history, anthropology, sociology, and cultural studies over how race matters. Hartigan tracks the spread of “white trash” from an epithet used only in the south prior to the Civil War to one invoked throughout the country by the early twentieth century. He also recounts how the cultural figure of “white trash” influenced academic and popular writings on the urban poor from the 1880s through the 1990s. Hartigan’s critical reading of the historical uses of degrading images of poor whites to ratify lines of color in this country culminates in an analysis of how contemporary performers such as Eminem and Roseanne Barr challenge stereotypical representations of “white trash” by claiming the identity as their own. Odd Tribes presents a compelling vision of what cultural studies can be when diverse research methodologies and conceptual frameworks are brought to bear on pressing social issues.

--Duke University Press

(Photo still from John Boorman’s Deliverance, 1972. Photofest.)

What Can You Say? America's National Conversation on Race

book cover

We are in a transitional moment in our national conversation on race. "Despite optimistic predictions that Barack Obama's election would signal the end of race as an issue in America, the race-related news stories just keep coming. Race remains a political and polarizing issue, and the sprawling, unwieldy, and often maddening means we have developed to discuss and evaluate what counts as "racial" can be frustrating. In What Can You Say?, John Hartigan Jr. examines a watershed year of news stories, taking these events as a way to understand American culture and challenge our existing notions of what is racial—or not.

The book follows race stories that have made news headlines—including Don Imus's remarks about the Rutgers women's basketball team, protests in Jena, Louisiana, and Barack Obama's presidential campaign—to trace the shifting contours of mainstream U.S. public discussions of race as they incorporate new voices, words, and images. Focused on the underlying dynamics of American culture that shape this conversation, this book aims to make us more fluent in assessing the stories we consume about race.

Advancing our conversation on race hinges on recognizing and challenging the cultural conventions governing the ways we speak about and recognize race. In drawing attention to this curious cultural artifact, our national conversation on race, Hartigan ultimately offers a way to to understand race in the totality of American culture, as a constantly evolving debate. As this book demonstrates, the conversation is far from over.


Race in the 21st Century: Ethnographic Approaches

book cover

What is the state of race relations in the U.S.? Are we making progress toward ending racial discrimination and prejudice? What, exactly, does "race" mean?

In Race in the 21st Century: Ethnographic Approaches, John Hartigan takes an anthropological look at questions such as these by introducing students to the study of race through qualitative approaches. In the first text to take an explicitly ethnographic approach, Hartigan summarizes and explains the current state of social science knowledge on race in the United States. In the process of surveying this research, Hartigan guides readers to think through basic important questions about race in relation to their own circumstances. Unlike many texts, however, this one focuses not on essential differences between racial or ethnic groups, but rather on the commonalities. The author concentrates on the particular contexts where people actively engage and respond to racial meanings and identities. In this way, he encourages readers to think critically about the meaning of race.

Ideal for undergraduate courses in race and ethnicity, the anthropology of race, and cultural/human diversity, Race in the 21st Century seamlessly brings together classic and contemporary studies in one accessible volume.

The author is also hosting a companion website that features useful web links, sample assignments, and reviews of ethnographies not covered in the text.


  • A brief and accessible look at the current state of social science knowledge on race in the U.S.
  • Introduces students to the study of race through ethnographic approaches.
  • Key concepts include cultural processes such as racial formation, racialization, and colorblind racism; the tools to perform cultural analysis in order to understand cultural dynamics; and the controversies surrounding racial identity as it relates to human diversity.
  • Ethnographic vignettes include both classic and contemporary studies such as Powdermaker's After Freedom and Moffatt's Coming of Age in New Jersey.
  • The text focuses on commonalities instead of differences between racial or ethnic groups.
  • The author encourages readers throughout to think critically about race as it applies to their own lives.
  • Two appendixes provide readers with guidance about understanding ethnographic research and preparing to undertake their own.


Mexican Genomics and the Root of Racial Thinking, Cultural Anthropology, 28 (3), 372-395, August, 2013

Translating “race” and “raza” between the United States and Mexico,” North American Dialogues, 16 (1): 32-45, 2013.

Millennials for Obama and the Messy Antic Ends of Race, Anthropology Now, 2(3): 1-9, October.

 What Does Race Have to Do With It?, Chronicle of Higher Education, August 15, 2010


Is the Tea Party Racist, Austin American Statesman, July 16, 2010


Is Race Still Socially Constructed?: The Controversy over race and genetics. Science as Culture, 17(2), 163-193.


Race Does Matter, But Not in Ways We Expect. Austin American Statesman, September 1, 2008.


How to Talk about White People. Austin American Statesman, May 12, 2008


What if Obama is Wrong. Austin American Statesman, March 20, 2008.

Review of An Unexpected Minority: White Kids in an Urban School. American Journal of Sociology 112(6).

Saying Socially Constructed is Not Enough. Anthropology News, February 2006.

Odd Tribes: Towards a Cultural Analysis of White People. Duke University Press, 2005

Culture Against Race: Reworking the Basis for Racial Analysis. South Atlantic Quarterly, 104(3), 543-560.