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The Nature of Race

The Nature of Race: How Scientists Think and Teach about Human Difference

Copyright Date: 2011
Edition: 1
Pages: 328
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  • Book Info
    The Nature of Race
    Book Description:

    What do Americans think "race" means? What determines one's race-appearance, ancestry, genes, or culture? How do education, government, and business influence our views on race? To unravel these complex questions, Ann Morning takes a close look at how scientists are influencing ideas about race through teaching and textbooks. Drawing from in-depth interviews with biologists, anthropologists, and undergraduates, Morning explores different conceptions of race-finding for example, that while many sociologists now assume that race is a social invention or "construct," anthropologists and biologists are far from such a consensus. She discusses powerful new genetic accounts of race, and considers how corporations and the government use scientific research-for example, in designing DNA ancestry tests or census questionnaires-in ways that often reinforce the idea that race is biologically determined. Widening the debate about race beyond the pages of scholarly journals,The Nature of Racedissects competing definitions in straightforward language to reveal the logic and assumptions underpinning today's claims about human difference.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-95014-6
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-v)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. vi-viii)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xiv)
  5. ONE Introduction: WHAT IS RACE?
    (pp. 1-21)

    Even before my first child was born, her race—and mine—seemed to matter. Most of the pamphlets my doctor gave me about potential birth defects made reference to groups such as “African Americans” and “Caucasians,” or they mentioned “ethnicity.” A brochure from a company called Genzyme Genetics, for example, calculated a mother’s risk of being a carrier of cystic fibrosis according to whether she was Northern European, Southern European, Ashkenazi Jewish, Hispanic, African American, or Asian American.¹ When I was twelve weeks pregnant, my doctor ordered a blood test that would indicate how likely the baby was to have...

  6. TWO What Do We Know about Scientific and Popular Concepts of Race?
    (pp. 22-65)

    In a few trenchant lines, anthropologist Ashley Montagu captured the social nature of race as both object of expert scientific inquiry and stock item of everyday folk knowledge. His comment illustrates the close links—indeed, the complicity—between the two. In Montagu’s view, popular belief in racial difference rests on the faith that science has penetrated its mysteries, while at the same time, scientists’ understanding of race is thoroughly suffused with lay notions. This intertwined, mutually reinforcing structure underpins the widespread conviction that “‘race’ really corresponds to something which exists.”

    Despite their interrelationship, making a distinction between scientific and lay...

    (pp. 66-102)

    High-school textbooks such asNew Dynamic Biologyhave had a lot to say to young Americans about race. Over the course of the twentieth century, they have introduced their readers to “the races of man” and provided detailed charts of our species’ racial diversity. They have warned against the dangers of racism and informed pupils of the race-specific risks for particular diseases. They have narrated vivid historical accounts of racial origins and homelands. And occasionally, they have presented race as a socially constructed classification scheme. With their colorful illustrations and straightforward prose, textbooks have been a major channel for disseminating...

    (pp. 103-141)

    The two definitions of race quoted above testify to the wide range of approaches and arguments that faculty interviewees used when I asked them to describe their understandings of race. Both answers come from colleagues in the same discipline—anthropology—and in the same department on the campus of a large public and urban university. Despite their shared training and pedagogical mission, the two anthropologists held very different perspectives on the nature of race. The first saw race as a system of classification that ismade to seemnatural—that is, “naturalized”—implying that in fact it is not. In...

    (pp. 142-190)

    The twenty-one-year-old student from Madison, Wisconsin, quoted above describes an experience that many proponents of a constructivist approach to race would like to see more widely shared. In her account, coming to college meant exposure to a new way of thinking about race that changed her previous views considerably. Having originally thought of race as “very much based on biology,” she now believes it to be “a social construction.” Moreover, she feels that through her college’s coursework, “everyone is exposed” to that perspective. In many ways, this student’s college career exemplifies the role that many constructivists believe formal education can...

  10. SIX Race Concepts beyond the Classroom
    (pp. 191-218)

    Schools are not the only places where scientists’ concepts of race make their way to a lay audience. Instead, formal education is just one of many institutions that reflect and convey scientific notions of racial difference to the public. Through their statements, practices, policies, and products, a wide range of public- and private-sector organizations play important roles in this dissemination process. In other words, textbooks and course lectures are not the only vehicles for spreading scientists’ concepts of race; laws, regulations, news reports, bureaucratic practices, and commercial goods and services also embody and communicate notions of racial difference. For example,...

    (pp. 219-248)

    The second time I was pregnant, I had the good fortune to be living in Italy thanks to a Fulbright research fellowship. This time my encounters with the medical establishment were quite different from those I had experienced as a first-time mother in New York. As I went through various rounds of doctors’ appointments and laboratory tests in Milan, no one ever asked me what my race (or ethnicity) was. I never had to fill out a form describing myself as “black” or “white,” yet it seemed that doctors and technicians were perfectly able to care for me and interpret...

  12. APPENDIX A. Textbook Sample Selection and List
    (pp. 249-256)
  13. APPENDIX B. Interview Research Design and Methodology
    (pp. 257-262)
  14. APPENDIX C. Faculty Questionnaire
    (pp. 263-266)
  15. APPENDIX D. Student Questionnaire
    (pp. 267-270)
  16. Notes
    (pp. 271-278)
  17. References
    (pp. 279-304)
  18. Index
    (pp. 305-310)
  19. Back Matter
    (pp. 311-311)