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 Race and Science  posted by  duggu   on 11/27/2007  Add Courseware to favorites Add To Favorites  
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Helmreich, Stefan, 21A.240 Race and Science, Spring 2004. (Massachusetts Institute of Technology: MIT OpenCourseWare), (Accessed 07 Jul, 2010). License: Creative Commons BY-NC-SA

Single nucleotide polymorphisms.

SNPs: Single Nucleotide Polymorphisms. (Image courtesy of the U.S. Department of Energy Human Genome Program.)

Course Highlights

This course includes a complete set of lecture notes.

Course Description

This course examines one of the most enduring and influential forms of identity and experience in the Americas and Europe, and in particular the ways race and racism have been created, justified, or contested in scientific practice and discourse. Drawing on classical and contemporary readings from Du Bois to Gould to Gilroy, we ask whether the logic of race might be changing in the world of genomics and informatics, and with that changed logic, how we can respond today to new configurations of race, science, technology, and inequality. Considered are the rise of evolutionary racism; debates about eugenics in the early twentieth century; Nazi notions of "racial hygiene"; nation-building projects and race in Latin America; and the movement in modern biology from race to populations to genes and genomes.




The category of "race" has often been used to naturalize social inequality by assigning people to hierarchically ordered groupings based on assumed biological difference. Scientific discourse has been a key resource in the history of this practice. But it has also been a crucial tool for dismantling race. In the first portion of this course, "The Alchemy of Race: Making and Unmaking Scientific Racism," we will examine these twin tendencies, reading about the rise of evolutionary racism alongside ideas about reproduction and sex; early twentieth century contests over eugenics in the U.K. and U.S.; Nazi notions of "racial hygiene"; race in the nation-building projects of Latin America; and trends in biological theory from studying race to evaluating populations to, today, examining genomes. We will also look at links between race and medical practice. The second portion of this class, "Reformulating Race: Making and Remaking the Idioms of Science," looks more keenly at the place of race in formulating the problems, approaches, and epistemologies animating scientific work more generally, even when it is not centrally about race as such. We try to understand how the practice of science - and the fashioning of technologies - can be racially marked in both oppressive and liberatory ways, by both dominant and marginalized groups. We want to know, for example, how "whiteness" might get written into science, and whether doing science from historically subordinated racial positions might allow us to see science and technology as well as the history of science and technology, differently. We examine these questions with particular attention to North American political contexts and racial formations. At the end of the course, we consider whether the logic of "race" might not be changing in our contemporary world of genomics and informatics, and with this the way we can usefully respond to configurations of race, science, and technology.

Required Books

Harding, Sandra, ed. The "Racial" Economy of Science: Toward a Democratic Future. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1993. ISBN: 0253326931.

Kevles, Daniel J. The Name of Eugenics: Genetics and the Uses of Human Heredity. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1995. ISBN: 0520057635.


Students will write three 7-page papers, choosing from a selection of topics to be provided by the instructor for each paper. Each paper represents 30% of the subject grade. No emailed papers accepted. Students will also be evaluated on class participation, including discussion and in-class writing exercises (10% of subject grade). Punctual attendance is obligatory. There is no final.




1 Introduction  
2 Crash Course in the Category of Race as Biological Phantom and Social Reality  
Part 1: The Alchemy of Race: Making and Unmaking Scientific Racism
3 Blood, Sex, and Skeletons: Colonialism, Climatic Determinism, Cranial Capacity, and the Rise of Monogenist and Polygenist Scientific Racism  
4 Germ Plasm: American and British Eugenics  
5 Skin Color, Bodily Form: Laws of Science and Laws of the Land in the Context of Immigration, Assimilation and Early 20th-Century American Anthropology  
6 Health and Hygiene: Latin American Lamarckism, Nazi German Darwinism  
7 From Population to Genome: Race after World War Two Paper 1 due
8 Race and Medicine  
Part 2: Reformulating Race: Making and Remaking the Idioms of Science
9 Alternative Histories and Futures for the Racial Economy of Science  
10 Land, Science, and Knowledge in Native America Paper 2 due
11 African - American Technoscientific Histories and Afrofuturist Projects  
12 Citizenship, Cyborgs, Model Minorities and Border Crossings  
13 Race in the Digital Age Paper 3 due   Tell A Friend