The 200 years' war and counting: Power politics and census controversies, 1790-1990

1994 1994

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Abstract (summary)

Recent censuses of the U.S. population present a paradox; by its own calculations, the Bureau estimates that its counts have become more accurate in recent decades, yet the agency has come under increasing attacks in recent years over the accuracy of the census. Increased contention over the accuracy of census numbers in recent decades is an apparent contradiction to the Bureau's claim of increased coverage; this dissertation explains the above paradox by examining the social and political processes embedded in the apparently technical process of counting the population.

Conflicts over census data are not new features of the political landscape; indeed, census controversies have erupted since the first counts in 1790. This research places recent census conflicts within the larger historical and institutional context of American politics and constructs a comparative analysis of them. A fundamental assumption of this approach is that useful theoretical analyses of state activity necessarily entail an historical framework; to examine actors and social structure outside of their particular historical contexts only serves to confuse and "mystify" existing controversies by confusing historically specific causal relationships with universal, trans-historic "causes."

The history of census controversies provides the basis for examining their institutional context. Alford and Friedland (1985) argue that political activity necessarily reflects the developments of the bureaucratic, capitalist, and democratic aspects of the state; furthermore, these aspects of the state contain contradictions within their developments, as well as tensions between them. This research places census controversies within the larger framework of institutional contradictions that have been a part of the census process from its inception in 1790. The contradictions between the democratic, bureaucratic, and capitalist aspects of the state (Alford and Friedland 1985), tension between racial conflict and accommodation in state activity (Omi and Winant 1986), and the role of elite discourse in racist policies (van Dijk 1993) form the basis for the construction of a theoretical perspective that emphasizes the ongoing nature of census controversies, and the institutional contradictions that underlie them, including the bureaucratic, capitalist, democratic and racist aspects of the state.

Indexing (details)

Minority & ethnic groups;
American history
0626: Sociology
0938: Demographics
0631: Minority & ethnic groups
0631: Sociology
0337: American history
Identifier / keyword
Social sciences
The 200 years' war and counting: Power politics and census controversies, 1790-1990
Feeney, Patrick Gerard
Number of pages
Publication year
Degree date
School code
DAI-A 55/04, Dissertation Abstracts International
Place of publication
Ann Arbor
Country of publication
United States
Rigsby, Leo
Temple University
University location
United States -- Pennsylvania
Source type
Dissertations & Theses
Document type
Dissertation/thesis number
ProQuest document ID
Database copyright ProQuest LLC; ProQuest does not claim copyright in the individual underlying works.
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