Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

Whiteness from Violence: Lynching and White Identity in the U.S. South, 1882–1915
by Smangs, Mattias, Ph.D., Columbia University, 2011, 230; 3451498
Abstract (Summary)

Based upon a theoretical framework that focuses on the relational and interactional sources of action and identity and how the violent negotiation of status and dominance relations may powerfully affect processes of identity formation, this dissertation explores the situational, spatial and temporal variation in white-on-black lynching in the post-Reconstruction South.

Empirical analyses, based upon county-level census data and an in part newly-constructed data set of all known lynchings in the states of Georgia and Louisiana from 1882 to 1915, show that lynchings took on different forms depending upon various situational and group-level factors and conditions. Communal lynchings, involving large crowds and symbolic and ritualistic elements, were predominately the result of alleged black crimes against whites (sexual assaults and murder) that were seen as challenging the sharp caste boundary separating the races and thereby threatening the integrity and superiority of the whole white community, and they largely took place in circumstances where whites displayed stronger ideological commitments to white supremacy and group loyalty than in places where the principles of race as the foundation of the social order were weaker. Lynchings involving smaller groups and perpetrated outside of the public purview without any salient symbolism or ritualistic elements were triggered by black behavior that was not seen as a threat to the integrity of the whole white community but an affront to the status and honor of individual whites, e.g. violations of the rules of interracial etiquette, and were more common in places where the interracial status gap was relative narrow and whites may have experienced difficulties to easily feel superior to blacks. These results, however, hold only for the post-1890 period, which is attributed to changing ideational and structural features of race relations in the South, above all the replacement of conservative and paternalistic notions of race relations and white supremacy with radically racist ones as the South's dominant racial ideology.

Based upon its theoretical and empirical analyses, the dissertation demonstrates, for one thing, that lynching represented a sociocultural practice facilitating shared sense-making and meaning construction, and, for another, its part in the formation of racial boundaries, categories, and identities in the South in the decades around 1900, and, thereby, in the development of the macrolevel patterns of racial oppression and inequality institutionalized through the Jim Crow system.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Bearman, Peter S.
School: Columbia University
School Location: United States -- New York
Source: DAI-A 72/06, Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: African American Studies, Black history, American history, Criminology, Ethnic studies, Social structure
Keywords: Collective identity, Collective violence, Lynching, Racial violence, South, White identity
Publication Number: 3451498
ISBN: 978-1-124-56755-6
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