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human nature: race

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Megan Bayles

on 12 July 2018

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Transcript of human nature: race

"The Crisis of Identification"
race & biology
the "fallacy of misplaced concreteness" / fallacy of reification (Whitehead quoted by Duster): the assumption that categories of thought are empirical
DNA heredity tests
human nature: race
sex & gender
"Race and Reification in Science"
Troy Duster
Professor Emeritus of Sociology & Bioethics at New York University
cultural gender ideologies embedded in reproductive biology
chromosomes & sex categorization
People have sought — for centuries — to explain racial difference in biological terms, in part by way of explaining social inequalities (i.e. inequality is so evident that it *must* be natural).
Sociology of science; sociology of knowledge; deviance and control; sociology of law; race and ethnicity; policy; deviance.
scientific studies that use race as a category can be problematic because...
- may obscure age and survey population data (as in hypertension and heart disease data)
- there are differences within racial categories; complex relationships between phenotype and social practices (as in skin tone correlation)
- sample collections and tissue banks come to represent populations, though they are a narrow set
- potential drawbacks of utilizing DNA databases
the first medication to be earmarked for a specific racial group, FDA approved in 2005
"racial profiling in medicine" without sufficient evidence linking race to the disease
pharmacogenomics: creates drugs tailored to an individual’s genetic makeup
not successful: patients didn't request it and doctors didn't prescribe it...it languishes
PBS, 2003
Episode 1,
"The Difference Between Us"
Theory of Racial Formation
(Omi and Winant,1986)
Race is a sociohistorical concept — not a biological one
Can refer to the production of a racial category or the assignation of racial meaning to a previously racially unclassified relationship, social practice or group — ideological and historically specific
People are different -> people are categorized -> there is conflict/anxiety determining the boundaries of these (unstable) categories -> categories are assigned meaning -> people act on those meanings
Ellen Samuels
Assistant Professor
Women's Studies
University of Wisconsin - Madison
disability studies; feminist/queer theory; 19th-21st century American literature; African American studies; body theory; visual culture; creative writing; autobiography and memoir
Fantasies of Identification: Disability, Gender, Race
cultural anxieties
change, disruption of order, difference, classification, defining and delineating (Samuels talks about this on pps 1-2)
About what do people seem to be talking, thinking, arguing, and worrying?
And why?
Often this reveals where the greatest cultural instability lies, and is the richest place to explore. (This is a lot of the work of AMS.)
(dis)ability, gender, and race are historically, socially, and culturally entangled — in large part because of their instability as categories, and the anxiety they produce
fantasies of identification
19th century desire: place people in categories, THEN validate that through science
social identities are visible/legible on bodies, and classifiable = fantasy
fantasy = "a thing we not only imagine, but desire to be true"
unstable, so must be reinforced through repetition and given strength through the production of evidence (hence its reliance on scientific/medical or pseudo-scientific "proof")
Hyrtl Skull Collection
The Mütter Museum: collection of 139 Caucasian (as in Caucasus) human skulls from Joseph Hyrtl (1810-1894), Viennese anatomist seeking to disprove phrenology
Phrenology & Other Racist Pseudosciences
psychology as inherent justification for chattel slavery
Arguments for slavery: African Americans were not intelligent enough to be equal to white Americans; because of physical and mental weakness, African Americans were more prone to disability when not enslaved
dysaesthesia aethiopica: a desire to avoid work and cause mischief
(Samuel Cartwright, "Diseases and Peculiarities of the Negro Race")
there exists a natural reason for the social order
- it is this way because it *must* be
pseudoscience: claims to be scientific, but is not rooted in scientific practice or theory
demonstrates the instability of the social order
- unstable, so must be reinforced through repetition and given strength through the production of evidence
Samuel George Morton and others collected human skulls, and were proponents of polygenism. Through his study of skulls, Morton assigned brain capacity/intelligence to what he considered the five races/species of man: the highest brain capacity to Europeans; second to Chinese, third to Southeast Asians and Polynesians, fourth to American Indians, and least to Africans and Australian aborigines.
a psychological theory or analytical method based on the belief that certain mental faculties and character traits are indicated by the configurations of the skull
cranial mapping; high brow/low brow
Frederick Douglass: monogenism as abolitionist argument
late 18th c- mid 19th c: Are human differences the result of biological variation within a species (monogenism; aligned with biblical creation story) or are there multiple species (polygenism; different races descended from different origins)?
biological determinism
"biology is destiny"
belief that our behaviors and characteristics are determined by our biology; your biology determines how you will be/act
the "nature" of nature vs. nurture
Kimberly TallBear
“DNA and Native American Identity”
Associate Professor of Native Studies
University of Alberta
the historical and ongoing roles of science and technology (technoscience) in the colonization of indigenous peoples and others
the "one drop rule"
race & genetics
"The problem today is that modern genetics is stuck in a paradox[...]: both believing race to be a tool to elucidate human genetic diversity, and believing that race is a poorly defined marker of that diversity and an imprecise proxy for the relationship between ancestry and genetics. This paradox is rooted in the nature of the field. [W]e and many others in genetics, anthropology and the social sciences have called on scientists to devise better methods to improve the study of human genetic diversity." - Michael Yudell, associate professor and chair of community health and prevention at Drexel University
heredity tests
criticisms: "Professors David Balding and Mark Thomas of the University College London warn in a public statement from the Sense About Science campaign group that 'you cannot look at DNA and read it like a book or a map of a journey' without supporting historical evidence..
stakes for
native people
"But figuring out where your ancestors came from becomes complicated when it entails a legacy of exclusion of displacement. Tribes each have important cultural histories, that include their origin stories. Many of their histories say that the tribe came from the land, that they arose there and have always lived there. And many of them have more modern histories that include white settlers challenging their right to live where they did. So to many tribal people, having a scientist come in from the outside looking to tell them where they’re “really” from is not only uninteresting, but threatening" - Rose Eveleth, The Atlantic
Human Genome Project (2003)
social vs. genetic systems of classification
intended to prevent miscegenation
codified into law in the 20th c.
social definition (19th and 20th c.) that a person with *any* African ancestry is considered black
(shift from antebellum racial categorizations wherein free people of majority white ancestry were categorized as white)
Tennessee (1910), Louisiana, Texas, Arkansas, Mississippi, North Carolina, Virginia, Alabama, Georgia, Oklahoma (1931)
many other states had "blood fraction" laws (1/16th ancestry), which became de facto 'one drop'
*native impact
genetic tests of interest to "applicants to Ivy League and other competitive schools"; those who have had their tribal membership revoked (69)
heredity tests:"suggest a linear, deterministic link between genetics and race that simply does not exist" (Tallbear 70)
DNA tests are embedded with the tools and logics of colonialism.
risk to tribal sovereignty and cultural definitions of kinship
- no tribe currently uses DNA tests to determine membership
Is it desirable to define Native identity in genetic terms?
*race as a verb
next week:
nativism, immigration, and environmentalism
free write
What can science tell us about race? What are some of its limitations?
Full transcript