Gender and Race in Introductory Sociology Books Revisited

Document Type


Department (Manual Entry)

Dept. of Sociology


We have updated Ferree and Hall's (1990) study of the way gender and race are constructed through pictures in introductory sociology textbooks. Ferree and Hall looked at 33 textbooks published between 1982 and 1988. We replicated their study by examining 3,085 illustrations in a sample of 27 textbooks, most of which were published between 2002 and 2006. We found important areas of progress in the presentation of both gender and race as well as significant areas of stasis. The face of society we found depicted in contemporary textbooks was distinctly less likely to be that of a white man, very prominent in the 1980s texts, and much more likely to be that of a minority woman. Thus, while only 34 percent of the pictures of identifiable individuals in the textbooks examined by Ferree and Hall were of women, almost 50 percent of such pictures were of women in the recent texts. Moreover, while the percentage of white men portrayed dropped from about 45 percent to 30 percent, the percentage of portrayals of minority women rose from about 11 percent to 22 percent. Another sign of progress has been the decreasing likelihood of textbooks to depict race and gender as being nonoverlapping categories: while women of color apparently had only race in the sample examined by Ferree and Hall, they had both gender and race in the sample we studied. Still, our examination of pictures as a whole as a unit of analysis found that blacks continue to be more likely than any other racial group to be depicted in the presence of other racial groups and, thus, to idealize the degree of social integration in American society. We also still see nonwhite women enjoying very little (in fact, no) visibility in sections devoted to theory, despite developments in feminist theory, generally, and multicultural feminist, specifically. In general, though, our analysis suggests that the various criticisms of introductory texts that have appeared in this forum and others can have an impact on the content of those texts and, by extension, the sociology we teach.