Article

Rethinking respectability politics

Margot Dazey

Abstract

Respectability politics—that is, the process by which privileged members of marginalized groups comply with dominant social norms to advance their group's condition—is the object of a growing body of literature in the fields of race and ethnic studies, social movements, and critical theory. Yet this body of literature remains theoretically unintegrated. This article offers a clarification of the concept by specifying who can resort to this type of politics and by characterizing respectability politics as an inherently ambivalent political strategy, one that stands at the crossroads of forms of resistance and accommodation of oppressive structures. The article also demonstrates the concept's potential to move beyond its current application in African American studies, as respectability politics holds promise in providing insights on the oppositional politics of other marginalized groups' members (such as Muslims in Europe or Latino/as in the United States). Lastly, the article sketches four research directions in the study of respectability politics, with important implications for understanding the workings of social conformance under domination.

Keywords

disidentification; marginalized groups; morals and manners; resistance; social class;

Published in

The British Journal of Sociology, January 2021, pp. 1–14