He was born in Chicago, Illinois. Bob spent his high school years at Sullivan High School in Chicago. He was the editor of the school paper, the Sentinel. He was also the valedictorian of his high school class. He was interested in sports and was an avid tennis player. He friends in high school included LeRoy Wollins who went on to be active in Veteran's for Peace and earner his living importing Russian language materials. Another friend was Charles Garvin who taught social work at the University of Michigan and Daniel Joseph who was a distinguished professor at the University Minnesota. Blauner's sociological writings and teachings on class, race and men are rooted in his years as a factory worker. He took that employment after his return from France where he lived during the so-called McCarthy period. His formal studies led to a B.A. from the University of Chicago in 1948, followed by an M.A. in 1950; he earned his Ph.D. from U.C. Berkeley in 1962. His master's thesis was on the sociological significance of first names.
He began teaching at San Francisco State University, the University of Chicago and from 1963 on he taught at Berkeley. His first wife was his high school classmate Virginia Bauer. He had a sister Sonia. His mother was a librarian and his father a lawyer. His wife at time of his death was Karina Epperlein who was a noted maker of documentary films, often portraying oppressed people such as incarcerated mothers.
The well-known "Blauner Hypothesis" states that minority groups created by colonization, because it is forced on them, experience a greater degree of racism and discrimination than those created by voluntary immigration.
In his studies, Blauner contrasts the assimilation experiences of Cubans, Puerto Ricans, and Mexican-Americans.
His work was funded by major groups such as the National Institute of Mental Health, the Rockefeller Foundation, and the Social Science Research Council. He died in North Berkeley, Berkeley, California on October 20, 2016 at the age 87.
- Alienation and Freedom: The Factory Worker and His Industry (1964).
- Racial Oppression in America (1972).
- Black Lives, White Lives: Three Decades of Race Relations in America (1989).
- Our Mothers' Spirits: Great Writers on the Death of Mothers and the Grief of Men, editor (1997).
- Resisting McCarthyism: To Sign or Not to Sign California’s Loyalty Oath (2009).
- Colonized and Immigrant Minorities
- "Robert Blauner." World of Sociology. Gale Group, 2001.