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Race to the Finish

Race to the Finish: Identity and Governance in an Age of Genomics

Jenny Reardon
Series: In-Formation
Copyright Date: 2005
Pages: 256
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  • Book Info
    Race to the Finish
    Book Description:

    In the summer of 1991, population geneticists and evolutionary biologists proposed to archive human genetic diversity by collecting the genomes of "isolated indigenous populations." Their initiative, which became known as the Human Genome Diversity Project, generated early enthusiasm from those who believed it would enable huge advances in our understanding of human evolution. However, vocal criticism soon emerged. Physical anthropologists accused Project organizers of reimporting racist categories into science. Indigenous-rights leaders saw a "Vampire Project" that sought the blood of indigenous people but not their well-being. More than a decade later, the effort is barely off the ground.

    How did an initiative whose leaders included some of biology's most respected, socially conscious scientists become so stigmatized? How did these model citizen-scientists come to be viewed as potential racists, even vampires?

    This book argues that the long abeyance of the Diversity Project points to larger, fundamental questions about how to understand knowledge, democracy, and racism in an age when expert claims about genomes increasingly shape the possibilities for being human. Jenny Reardon demonstrates that far from being innocent tools for fighting racism, scientific ideas and practices embed consequential social and political decisions about who can define race, racism, and democracy, and for what ends. She calls for the adoption of novel conceptual tools that do not oppose science and power, truth and racist ideologies, but rather draw into focus their mutual constitution.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-2640-7
    Subjects: Ecology & Evolutionary Biology, Anthropology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xiii)
  4. Chapter 1 Introduction
    (pp. 1-16)

    By all accounts, no one expected it.

    In the summer of 1991, leading population geneticists and evolutionary biologists from the United States proposed a project to sample and archive the world’s human genetic diversity (Cavalli-Sforza et al., 1991).¹ The proposed survey, they argued, promised “enormous leaps” in our understanding of “who we are as a species and how we came to be” (ibid., 491; Human Genome Diversity Project 1992a,1). To realize these promised advances in knowledge, proponents urged the scientific community to act swiftly. Social changes that facilitated the mixing of populations, they warned, threatened the identity of groups...

  5. Chapter 2 Post–World War II Expert Discourses on Race
    (pp. 17-44)

    According to prominent historical accounts, something called “the idea of race in science” emerged at the beginning of the nineteenth century, reached its pinnacle at the end of the nineteenth century, began to decline at the beginning of the twentieth, and then met its final demise after World War II (Stocking 1968, Stepan 1982, Barkan 1992). As do the theories of race whose decline they document, these accounts assume the existence of a stable and static entity whose rise and fall can be charted. Consequently, historians of race and science, and the critical race theorists whose work they inform, have...

  6. Chapter 3 In the Legacy of Darwin
    (pp. 45-73)

    As noted in the last chapter, the rise of the category of population in biological studies of human variation did not mark the demise of the category of race in biology. Indeed, for many of its advocates, population genetics represented a source of new, more rigorous tools for studying race formation. In this chapter, I provide the historical context that renders visible the connections between population genetics, studies of race formation, and the Human Genome Diversity Project.

    At the time of its proposal, the ties between the Diversity Project and decades of previous research on the formation of human races...

  7. Chapter 4 Diversity Meets Anthropology
    (pp. 74-97)

    Although at the inception of the Diversity Project organizers did not consider questions about the meaning of race and its role in structuring their initiative, this would all begin to change as the first criticisms of the Project emerged just months after the call for the survey appeared inGenomics. At this time,Sciencemagazine published a letter from Mark Weiss, then director of the Physical Anthropology Program at the National Science Foundation. In this letter Weiss called into question the lack of involvement of anthropologists in the planning of the Project, arguing that these scientists possessed invaluable expertise that...

  8. Chapter 5 Group Consent and the Informed, Volitional Subject
    (pp. 98-125)

    In the midst of efforts to respond to critical physical anthropologists in the spring and summer of 1993, a second wave of criticism rocked the Diversity Project. At this time, organizers began to hear from indigenous rights organizations and other advocates for indigenous groups. In May, the Rural Advancement Foundation International (RAFI), an activist organization committed to policy advocacy on issues related to biodiversity and intellectual property rights, accused the Project of threatening the livelihood and autonomy of indigenous groups (Rural Advancement Foundation International 1993). In the same month, RAFI alerted indigenous rights organizations that Project organizers had prepared a...

  9. Chapter 6 Discourses of Participation
    (pp. 126-156)

    From the Diversity Project’s inception in 1991, proponents argued that their sampling initiative would end the “Eurocentric bias” of the Human Genome Project (Bowcock and Cavalli-Sforza 1991, Human Genome Organization 1993). To date, they observed, most studies of human genetic diversity had “been made on Caucasoid samples for obvious reasons of expediency” (Bowcock and Cavalli-Sforza 1991, 491). The Diversity Project would correct this bias by sampling indigenous populations around the world. Some geneticists and biological anthropologists who identified themselves as African American, however, did not agree.197They contended that by including the genomes of indigenous populations, but not those of...

  10. Chapter 7 Conclusion
    (pp. 157-168)

    The Diversity Project today consists largely of unimplemented texts, and work on the initiative moves forward only slowly with limited resources from the French Centre pour l’Etude du Polymorphism Humaine (CEPH).250Yet despite its failure to gain widespread support, the Project continues to be extremely important for understanding the future of biology. Today, numerous studies of genetic diversity in the human species are pushing ahead under different names, and with different goals and ideals.251Proponents of these new efforts have attempted to distinguish themselves from Diversity Project organizers by arguing that their initiatives will answer more profitable questions about human...

  11. Appendix A: Methodological Appendix
    (pp. 169-172)
  12. Appendix B: Code for Interviews
    (pp. 173-174)
  13. Appendix C: Human Genome Diversity Project Time Line
    (pp. 175-178)
  14. Notes
    (pp. 179-210)
  15. Bibliography
    (pp. 211-228)
  16. Index
    (pp. 229-237)
  17. Back Matter
    (pp. 238-238)