Inheriting Possibility represents an ambitious effort to develop a theory that Dixon-Román calls “new materialism,” and to combine various types of analyses to address the intergenerational reproduction of social inequality through education. The author, in this heavily theoretical book, shows an impressively wide-ranging grasp of theories related to education and social inequality in general. There seem to be three main contributions of the book. First, building on the work of Vicki Kirby, it critiques past research and identifies a great need to move beyond the assumed duality of nature and culture that has biased past research on social reproduction. In doing so, the author develops his “new materialism” theory. Second, the book calls for reconciliation of the tension between critical theory scholars and the tenets of quantitative methods. Third, it provides specific research that addresses how parenting performativities and preparing for the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) act to reproduce “difference” across generations. In the first chapter, the author develops his new theory after being critical of the usual suspects. That is, he points out the flaws of largely abandoned theories such as eugenics and culture of poverty, as well as widely discussed theories such as Bourdieu’s ideas related to cultural capital and habitus and human capital theory. In their place, he develops his “new materialism” theory, which argues that in order to understand the process of inheritance, one needs to consider 1) material-discursive forces, 2) timespace, and 3) assemblages. In doing so, he argues that traditional assumptions of the social sciences are outdated, as evidenced by developments in the natural and physical sciences. In the second chapter, Dixon-Román focuses on methodology. With a thoughtful overview of social science methodological developments from Comte to St. Thomas Aquinas to Foucault, he argues that critical scholars need to move beyond the “hermeneutics of suspicion” of quantitative methods. In other words, postmodernist scholars need to embrace the potential of quantitative methods and consider the possibility that this can be done without falling into the trap of representational thinking. In his empirical chapters, he attempt to demonstrate how this can be done by combining analysis of seemingly disparate sources, including structural equation modeling of the Panel Study of Income Dynamics and the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth 1997, and analysis of the TV series Gossip Girls, the viral video “How Not to React When Your Child Tells You That He’s Gay,” and the personal histories of Bill Clinton, Kesha, and John Legend. He claims that his “diffractive methodology” is not “mixed methods” or triangulation, in which the intention is to validate findings using different methods, but rather he is concerned with “tensions, contradictions, and difference between the data” (70). Next, he provides two research-oriented chapters, one on parenting practices and the next on SAT preparation, and a concluding chapter that largely reflects upon college access for first-generation college students and legacies. The approach, again, is distinctive in terms of the wide range of sources that Dixon-Román draws upon. Rarely do monographs both conduct sophisticated statistical analysis of nationally representative secondary datasets and seriously consider the content of fictional depictions of the processes under consideration. The effort is admirable, and the call for a rejection of counterproductive tensions between critical theorists and quantitative methodologies is greatly appreciated, but ultimately the evidence provided does not further our empirical understanding of inheritance and the social reproduction of inequality a great deal. Frankly, selection of the qualitative sources examined seemed arbitrary and haphazard, and the connections between various sources were lacking. After finishing the book, I did not feel it empirically added much evidence to the questions it addresses, and the reader is left with the conclusion that there are myriad causes for both differential parenting practices and SAT scores. These conclusions are both obviously true and, at the same time, unsatisfying. In the end, the greatest contribution of this book is its theoretical call for a new way to consider these processes. Perhaps future work can use Dixon-Román’s theory and meld methodologies in this prescribed way to great effect. It is clear that this can be done not only on this topic of inheritance, but on countless other topics as well, and the development of a versatile theory is no small accomplishment. The book ends with a call to critical scholars to embrace quantitative analysis because of the impending power of analysis of big data. On this point, I could not agree more. Because of the exponential increase of data and the soon-to-be-unfathomable power of computers and artificial intelligence to make sense of this data, it is imperative that qualitative researchers consider how such tools can be combined with their critical insights in order to better understand significant social forces. If the divisions that Dixon-Román identifies persist, the social sciences will leave critical scholars, and their invaluable insights, behind. © The Author(s) 2018. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. All rights reserved. For permissions, please e-mail: email@example.com. This article is published and distributed under the terms of the Oxford University Press, Standard Journals Publication Model (https://academic.oup.com/journals/pages/about_us/legal/notices)
Social Forces – Oxford University Press
Published: Feb 23, 2018
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