A critical strong program: Cultural power and racialized civil exclusion

  • Stephen F. OstertagEmail author
  • Lucas Dìaz
Original Article


Cultural sociology’s strong program along with civil sphere theory has the potential to reveal new and insightful ways of understanding and explaining various social inequalities. We use this paper to offer one model of how such a project might look. Drawing on the intersections of media, crime, race, and the U.S. Criminal Justice System, we identify the mechanisms and processes of racialized civil exclusion in the post-Civil Rights era of mass incarceration. In so doing we seek to make two contributions to existing literature. First, we complement popular political process and multi-institutional approaches to social inequalities by providing a model of civil exclusion that is both parsimonious and expansive. Second, we illustrate how cultural sociology’s strong program and civil sphere theory may be used to engage the critical scholarship on race by identifying racialized civil exclusion as a distinct aspect of contemporary racism. We conclude with suggestions on how scholars and activists alike might use cultural sociology’s strong program to inform processes of racialized civil inclusion and investigate other entrenched inequalities.


racism civil exclusion cultural sociology mass incarceration civil sphere antiracism 



The authors would like to thank Jeffrey Alexander, Orlando Patterson, and the anonymous reviewers who all offered detailed and encouraging remarks on previous versions of this paper. We also wish to thank Michele Adams (Tulane University) and William Armaline (San Jose State University) for their willingness to read earlier drafts and offer thought-provoking feedback. Please send all correspondence to Stephen F. Ostertag at


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© Macmillan Publishers Ltd 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of SociologyTulane UniversityNew OrleansUSA

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