ScholarWorks Spotlight: Celebrating the Human Side of Research - Dr. Deenesh Sohoni

Posted on
April 6, 2021
By Jessica Ramey - Instruction & Research Librarian

In this series, we are spotlighting researchers who have contributed to W&M ScholarWorks, our institutional repository. We asked each researcher to identify a scholarly work and share the “human story” behind it. Who are the people behind the data and theory, and how were they affected by the scholarship? We hope you will enjoy learning more about what happens “behind the scenes” of research, and that it encourages you to explore the collections in W&M ScholarWorks. 

If you are interested in being part of the series or contributing to ScholarWorks, please contact your librarian liaison.

An interview with Dr. Deenesh Sohoni

Restrictionist Discourse by the Numbers: The Framing of the Demographic Impacts of Immigration, Social Problems, Volume 64, Issue 4, November 2017, Pages 476–496 

Explain your article in a tweet OR explain your article to a five-year-old: 

My article illustrates how groups seeking to restrict immigration use, misuse, and challenge official government data to present immigration as a threat to the United States. 

What inspired you to study this research question?   

In this age of “mis-information” and “false news,” I was interested in how groups used seemingly accurate demographic information to mislead Americans about immigration flows. For example, some of the restrictionist groups I examined used U.S. Census projections that the U.S. population would hit one billion by 2100 to argue against immigration, however, in most cases these groups neglected to state that this projection was the Census “high” projection, and an outcome the U.S. Census Bureau described as highly unlikely. Through these and other examples, I was interested in highlighting the “politics of numbers” and in showing people how to be more discerning consumers of demographic data. 

How does your research connect with/to the courses you teach?   

My research originally originated from a unit on immigration in my Global Social Problems course. I wanted to show students how claims makers, in this case restrictionist groups, presented U.S. Census population projections graphically in ways that evoked immigration as a big and growing problem. Specifically, I showed how through technical choices such as which of many sets of Census population projections to use, where to start the x-axis, which point in time to begin, and even the choice of color to represent immigration growth all helped shaped what image of immigration these groups wanted to present. I still use examples from this article in my classes to illustrate the importance of demographic methods/knowledge.    

What didn't make it into the article that's interesting?  

While researching for this article, I realized it isn’t just “fringe groups” using demographic data in misleading ways that can be a problem. In a more recent article (Sohoni 2020), I show how even mainstream news sources use headlines for articles describing demographic changes in ways that problematically present the changing racial composition of the United States. For instance, after the 2008 release of U.S. Census projections showing that “non-Hispanic Whites” would likely dip below 50% of the U.S. population, mainstream news sources started highlighting this finding with headlines stating “Whites” would become a minority by 2042—only noting the distinction between the Census classification of “non-Hispanic white” and “White” in the body of the text. 

Deenesh Sohoni (2020) The Coming Majority-Minority State?: Media Coverage of U.S. Census Projections, Demographic Threat, and the Construction of Racial Boundaries, The Sociological Quarterly, DOI: 10.1080/00380253.2020.1792810

Articles and book chapters archived in ScholarWorks are findable through Google and can reach a larger audience. Find out how to add your works to the institutional repository by talking to your liaison librarian.