UPDirectory Highlighted Philosopher of February 2017: Ronald Robles Sundstrom

Ronald Robles Sundstrom

Professor and Philosophy Department ChairUniversity of San Francisco


AOS: Philosophy of Race, African American Philosophy, and Social and Political Philosophy

The intersections within and between social identifications, including their mixing and conflict, is subject to formation and utilization by political power. This occurs within social contexts, thick with their own histories. Those forces form ethical and racial identifications, and how individuals and groups, who are ascribed with those identifications, are conceived and conceive of themselves. Those same forces also frame how societies imagine, and work toward or against, social justice. 

This set of ideas about racialization has influenced my teaching, research, and serivce of my academic commitments. Most of my writing has been concerned with the ethics, politics, and ontology of racial and ethnic identities. I  specifically focused on Black, mixed race, and Asian American identities in my articles on race. The position I took on their ontological status was that they were both socially constructed and real, and the normative stance I took, especially in regards to the controversies around mixed-race (biracial, multiracial, or mixed) identities was that they too were real and that they were ethically possible identities.

In addition to that line in my research, I wrote about prominent figures in the history of African American political theory, such as Frederick Douglass, Anna Julia Cooper, and W.E.B. DuBois. I gave particular attention to Douglass’ intellectual legacy, especially his arguments for abolition, his anti-slavery reading of the U.S. Constitution, as well as his conceptions of Black resistance, and assimilation and amalgamation. Douglass is an icon in Black political theory, but his ideas were equally important contributions to the history of political theory in general, and specifically to civic republicanism, liberalism, and egalitarianism. His views of social justice, national belonging, and integration, along with those of Du Bois and Cooper, shapes my examinations and wary promotion of those, and related social and political, ideas as is evident in my book, The Browning of America and the Evasion of Social Justice.

These currents flow through my on-going work on the idea and ideal of integration and its place egalitarian liberal theories of justice. I consider different conceptions of integration, and how it relates to desegregation and its purported opposite, segregation. 

The sort of integration I discuss is primarily residential and is centered on the history of segregation, desegregation, and integration, along with the continuing controversies over fair and affordable housing in Oakland and San Francisco. This analysis opens up questions about how integration is also related to other fraught ideas (colorblindness, post-racialism, assimilation, and multiculturalism) and to ongoing social crises (residential and education segregation, housing inequality, and gentrification). And this leads ultimately to the question of whether, and to what degree, integration is a worthy or legitimate normative ideal and practical social and political goal in a just, well-ordered democratic society.