Wendy Roth


Relevant Degree Programs


Graduate Student Supervision

Doctoral Student Supervision (Jan 2008 - Nov 2019)
The making of a global racial hierarchy : racial formation of South and Southeast Asian migrants In South Korea (2019)

How, why and under what conditions do new racial categories form? This dissertation examines the construction of South and Southeast Asian migrants (tongnama) as a new racial category in South Korea: a country in a continent long neglected within studies of race. Through ethnographic research on foreign migrant workers and marriage immigrants in South Korea, it was discovered that a new racial category has emerged. Tongnama has become an umbrella term to refer to migrants from Southeast Asian countries, such as Vietnam, the Philippines, Thailand, Cambodia and Indonesia, but also from South Asian countries such as Pakistan, Nepal, and Sri Lanka. My findings show that several elements contribute to the racial formation of tongnama migrants: the Korean State, Korean culture, gender and patriarchy, and the Korean split labour market. To be specific, exploitative capitalist practices in the Korean labour market and state-facilitated gendered recruitment of foreign brides shape and reshape South Koreans’ understanding of this new racial category. At the same time, the racial formation of South and Southeast Asian migrants emerges out of a need by Koreans to understand their country’s position within contemporary international migration flows. Building upon Omi and Winant’s racial formation theory, my findings demonstrate that racial formation in South Korea shares similar racial logics with racial formation in European and white settler countries; such as an emphasis on the physical characteristics of groups, race as a group position, and a gendered racialization process. Yet, my findings also suggest that racial formation taking place in South Korea exhibits a different trajectory from Euro-American racial formation, which emerged alongside slavery, colonialism, and (neo) imperialism. This dissertation thus attempts to explain the dynamics of contemporary race and racial formation in a non-‘Western’ context. I argue that in South Korea, migrants’ countries of origin and the economic developmental status of these nations within the global economic order appears to be a critical factor in racial formation, which is essential to Koreans’ perception of a global racial hierarchy. Therefore, the case of South Korea contributes to theories of race by emphasizing the importance of contemporary economic migration for racial formation.

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Bleu blanc noir : assimilation trajectories, identity dynamics and boundary work of French Antilleans, West Africans, and their children in Paris (2017)

This study compares the assimilation trajectories, identity dynamics and boundary work of French Antilleans, West Africans and their descendants in the Paris region. While previous studies have focused on the experiences of French Antilleans and sub-Saharan Africans separately or those of Blacks in France as a whole, this study engages in a more minute comparison of the experiences of West African immigrants and French Antilleans across two generations in mainland France. This comparison primarily aims to determine the role of the divergent civic, cultural and religious backgrounds of these groups alongside their largely shared racial characteristics in how they assimilate to French society across two generations. These variables are of particular interest given the salience of civic and cultural distinctions in France, while racial distinctions are notoriously downplayed. The main theoretical goal of the study is to assess the usefulness of segmented assimilation theory in accounting for the various assimilation outcomes of these groups.Drawing on 55 in-depth interviews complemented with wide-ranging statistical data, I explore the impact of cultural, religious and racial factors on the intergenerational educational and professional trajectories of both populations, analyze how these factors influence their identification patterns and assess how members of these groups seek to negotiate the various symbolic boundaries that they come up against, both in their relations to each other and to the majority population.The results suggest that French Antilleans have more favourable educational and professional outcomes than West Africans. Despite the importance of racial barriers for both groups, the findings also underscore the salience of cultural and religious forces as well as the identification dynamics and boundary work that both groups engage in. While some segmented assimilation mechanisms remain valid in the French case, the study also demonstrates the importance of empirically identifying societally specific assimilation barriers and cultural segments for the theory to retain its usefulness in other national contexts.

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Master's Student Supervision (2010 - 2018)
Confused categories, situational races, authenticity and the implementation of affirmative action : how young Brazilians manage the boundaries of racial identification (2014)

Brazil’s vision of race has been changing. In contrast with its former tendency to avoid static racial identifications and discussions of race, the country is pushing toward clearer racial definitions in order to institute racially targeted programs, such as racial quotas for Non-Whites in public universities. Using in-depth interviews from 19 students who entered university through racial quotas, this paper explores how these students envision fixed categories for themselves, how they deal with these categories in different situations, and what they think the implications of these shifts in racial understanding will be. The study shows that the racial categories proposed in legislation often do not represent the way students see themselves; indeed, they may not feel that racial categorization is something natural to their existence before applying for university. Respondents often feel discomfort dealing with the idea of categorization, as well as with the meaning of each category, and as a result they sometimes appropriate and redefine the categories. They speak of being reminded of their racialized bodies when contrasted or compared with others or their environment, and they demonstrate that race is a very flexible concept in their minds, varying in different situations. As well, their perceptions of race implicate ideas about social class and even personal aesthetics that are easily mutable. In trying to come to terms with the idea of race and how to bound it to something they can understand and grasp, students come to dispute the authenticity of racial claims. These disputes over how someone’s race is authentic may provide a space in which new meanings of race and racial categories can be created.

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Assimilating through social networks? The importance of networks in assimilation trajectories (2012)

The assimilation outcomes of second generation youths have been hotly debated amongst scholars (Alba et al. 2011, Haller et al. 2011). While the outcomes are contested, it is undeniable that ethnic organizations play a central role in the second generation’s assimilation trajectory. Zhou and Bankston (1998) suggest that participating in ethnic religious institutions promotes upward assimilation through instilling an ethnic identity onto youths. My research on the greater Seattle area Vietnamese Buddhist youth organizations uncovered similar mechanisms that led to Zhou and Bankston’s overall quantitative findings, but also uncover the importance of resource brokering and networks. Based on 43 in-depth interviews, I find that organization participation promotes upward and downward assimilation, and the friendships formed inside ethnic organizations play a crucial role in assimilation outcomes. My project shows that participation in Buddhist youth groups instills a Vietnamese-American identity on youths and, in turn, this ethnic identity can lead to upward assimilation only if the individual is part of a peer network that promotes normative values. Downward assimilation can be associated with youth group participation if the youths enter peer networks that promote deviant behaviors. These deviant peer networks can supersede the positive effects of the youth organization’s overall influence on the individual.

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News Releases

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Current Students & Alumni

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