Patricia Banks awarded the Meribeth E. Cameron Faculty Award for Scholarship

Patricia Banks, Professor of Sociology, is awarded the Meribeth E. Cameron Faculty Award for Scholarship.

“Instant classic,” “jaw-dropping,” “brilliant,” “timely,” “insightful,” “essential reading,” “necessary and beautiful.” These are the words reviewers have used to describe Professor Patricia Banks’ scholarship. Widely recognized as a leading voice in cultural sociology, she has produced research at a dizzying pace. She is the author of four books, beginning with her first, Represent: Art and Identity Among the Black Upper-Middle Class in 2010. Patricia has published 13 peer-reviewed articles in top journals, in addition to dozens of essays, reviews, and book chapters. She is currently co-editor of the journal Poetics, one of the highest rated journals for cultural sociology, in addition to serving on multiple advisory boards and professional association committees. In recognition of her work, Patricia has received numerous grants and fellowships, including a residential fellowship at the Center for Advanced Study at Stanford University in 2018,  a residential fellowship the W.E.B. Du Bois Institute for African and African American Research at Harvard University in 2009, as well as grants from institutions such as the UNCF/Mellon Foundation, the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation, and the American Association of University Women. Her most recent book, Black Culture Inc: How Ethnic Community Support Pays for Corporate America, published with Stanford University Press, won the 2023 American Sociological Association Oliver Cromwell Cox Book Award from The Section on Racial and Ethnic Minorities, as well as a Gold Medal Axiom Business Book Award, and a Bronze Medal Independent Publisher Book Award).

Patricia has pioneered the study of African American museums and philanthropy. Her research explores the development and characteristics of African American philanthropy, consumption, and the art market. She shows that artistic expression and consumption are vehicles of artistic appreciation, cultural affirmation, wealth accumulation, child socialization, and political orientation. She argues for the racialized “segregated inclusion” of elites, as new boundaries emerge between previously segregated groups. Blacks in particular use African American museums as powerful cultural, social and historical ‘meaning making’ spaces.

Patricia’s research rethinks and expands the core sociological concept of cultural capital, challenging the class-centric views of sociologist Pierre Bourdieu and much of the sociological literature. She shows that cultural capital has racial and ethnic dimensions alongside a class component. She develops the idea of ethclass, or the notion that the different ethnic backgrounds of classes makes a difference in class practices and ideologies. For example, the rise of a contemporary black elite has been accompanied by the growth of African American museums. This not only creates bonds among members of the black elite, but diversifies the philanthropic field. Her analysis demonstrates that non-dominant groups like African Americans create their own distinctive type of cultural capital. Patricia shows how philanthropy by black elites promotes a particular vision of black history, based on a sense of legacy and hope. In her most recent work, she examines how this black cultural capital in turn gets taken up by corporate interests as “diversity capital” and used by firms to signal their commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion," sometimes glossing over otherwise poor social justice track records.

Moreover, Patricia has contributed not only to debates within cultural sociology but also is helping to shape public understanding of the larger meaning of art collection, and its intersections with elite culture, race, and corporate interests. She has been quoted by the New York Times and the Washington Post, and she created the publicly available African American Museums Database (AAMD). Her research helps us all to understand the complexity of contemporary social inequality. The College is proud to honor Professor Banks’s scholarship and looks forward to her future work with great excitement.