As a discipline, political science tends to have a split personality on the issue of whether the driving force behind political action is material or ideational. Put too crudely, White scholars tend to focus on structural conditions as the cause of group identity and action, whereas scholars of color tend to focus on group identity and conflict in order to explain structural conditions. More generally, the relevant debate within political science revolves less around Jacques Demrda versus Karl Marx (as in critical race studies) than around W. E. B. DuBois versus Thomas Hobbes-that is, whether "the problem of the twentieth [and other] centur[ies] is the problem of the color line" or whether people are fundamentally se/f-interested individualists whose social interaction is shaped by the opportunities presented in a given political structure. This Essay examines those propositions by discussing important recent work by political scientists in several arenas, including ethnic conflict, nationalism, and a belief in linked fate. It then briefly discusses the author’s own research on the relationship between race and class, and on the possible malleability of racial and ethnic concepts and practices, in order to show one way that identity-based and interest-based political analyses interact. The author concludes that material forces drive most important political disputes and outcomes, but that politics is best understood through a combination of material and ideational lenses.

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