Article ID: CBB086533805

Resurecting raciology? Genetic ethnology and pre-1945 anthropological race classification (2020)


This article places the current high-profile and controversial scientific project that I call ‘genetic ethnology’ within the same two-century tradition of biologically classifying modern peoples as pre-1945 race anthropology. Similarities in how these two biological projects have combined political and scientific agendas raise questions about the liberalism of genetics and stimulate concerns that genetic constructions of human difference might revive a politics of hate, division and hierarchy. The present article however goes beyond existing work that links modern genetics with race anthropology. It systematically compares their many similar practices and organisational features, showing that both projects were political-scientific syntheses. Studying how the origins, geography, filiations, ‘travels and encounters of our ancestors’ affect ‘current genetic variation’, both seem to have responded to a continuous public demand for biologists to explain the histories of politically significant peoples and give them a scientific basis. I challenge habitual contrasts between apolitical scientific genetics and racist pseudoscience and use race anthropology as a parable for how, in the era of Brexit and Trump, right-wing identity politics might infect genetic ethnology. I argue however that although biology-based identities carry risks of essentialism and determinism, the practices and organisation of classification pose greater political dangers.

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Article Christopher Donohue (2020) Social borrowings and biological appropriations: Special issue introduction. Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part C: Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences (p. 101309). unapi

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Authors & Contributors
Lowe, James W. E.
Barbujani, Guido
Spencer, Quayshawn
Abrams, Nels Martin
Banta, Joshua Alexander
Hochman, Adam
Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part C: Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences
Current Anthropology
Mefisto: Rivista di medicina, filosofia, storia
Journal of Asian Studies
Historical Studies in the Natural Sciences
British Journal for the History of Science
The University of Utah Press
Oxford University Press
Science and race
Physical anthropology
Variation (biology)
Robert Trivers
Dobzhansky, Theodosius
Wilson, Edmund Beecher
Penrose, Lionel
Murdoch, George Peter
Morton, Samuel George
Time Periods
20th century
21st century
19th century
20th century, late
18th century
United States
Edinburgh (Scotland)
South Africa
University of Edinburgh

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