Workshop Dates: May 3-4, 2013
Main Organizer: Kazuko Suzuki (Sociology)
Co-Organizer: Diego von Vacano (Political Science)
Supported by the Dean’s Strategic Development Fund, College of Liberal Arts
The workshop examines how social science views of race square with those used in the areas of genetics, genomics, medicine and health, in Western and Non-Western contexts.
(The workshop is not open to the public. Registration Closed. Please contact the organizers for any inquiries at ReconsideringRace@gmail.com.)
Overview of Workshop:
One of the most omnipresent yet elusive phenomena of social life is race. While we generally know it when we see it, we don’t quite know what it is. This situation exists even after many efforts at trying to understand how it emerged and what are its fundamental meanings. Much of the literature on race has argued that it is a Western concept that arises with the emergence of modern imperialism, whether in the sixteenth century (Age of Discovery) or the eighteenth century (Age of Enlightenment). Moreover, while the social construction approach regarding race has become dominant in the last thirty years in the social sciences, two important factors must ask us to reconsider its utility. One is the need to think about the wide use of ‘racial’ categories in the contemporary medical and health sciences, in particular with the rise of genetics and genomics. The other is the fact that much scholarship on race has been rooted in the study of modern U.S. and European history. This leaves out many perspectives on the meanings and emergence of race from a variety of cultures, time periods, and geographic areas. What this tells us is that there are still competing accounts of race that may not necessarily reconcilable with each other. We believe that the social construction approach (which denies any biological or genetic basis to race) must try to engage non-Western perspectives and also the medical sciences to see if there is a common ground when it comes to the meanings of ‘race.’
In this Workshop, we seek to address three fundamental tensions in this intellectual conundrum. One is the tension between social science approaches that see race as an independent variable (i.e., races as discrete analytical categories) and those that see it as a dependent variable (i.e., an object of study that is malleable). Secondly, there is a tension between the idea that race is a universally-visible phenomenon that was brought about by Western modernity and the idea that it arises in particular cultural contexts in various historical periods. Lastly, we have the tension between the socio-political construction perspective and the biological/bio-medical perspective. This project seeks to address these tensions through cross-disciplinary, interdisciplinary and comparative approaches.