Friday, May 3:
Opening Remarks (Dean Bermudez, College of Liberal Arts)
Opening Comments (Verna M. Keith, Associate Department Head of Sociology)
Introduction by Organizer (Kazuko Suzuki, Texas A&M, Sociology)
Panel I: Social Science and Race
How do approaches in the social sciences deal with recent developments in the natural sciences that pose challenges to the social constructionist view of race? The papers in this panel explore this question broadly and discuss relevant implications.
Chair: Pat Goldsmith (Texas A&M, Sociology)
Discussant: Sheela Athreya (Texas A&M University , Anthropology)
10:00-10:30 am: Jennifer Hochschild, Harvard University, Government
What Is at Stake in the Claim that Race Is Only a Social Construction – and What Happens if We Soften that Claim?
Americans have debated for centuries whether distinctions among races and the concept of race are based in biological differences, purely human inventions, or some combination. Probably most social scientists and legal scholars now concur that both “race” and group distinctions are socially constructed, with minimal or no biological basis. Some biological scientists agree, but many perceive and analyze genetic elements of conventionally defined social groups.
The ongoing debate over the biological or social foundations of race has, of course, strong normative components; most social constructionists fear that any association of race with biology will bring back nineteenth century racial science or reinforce contemporary group hierarchies. In particular, many social constructionists fear that genomic science will, perhaps unintentionally, essentialize race and reify racial categories. Ordinary Americans’ engagement with genomics, however, is in tension with these concerns. Genetic ancestry tests, some acceptance of race- specific medications for particular diseases, and earlier surveys provide evidence on that point; a new survey on “Genetics: Knowledge, Attitudes, and Policies” (GKAP) provides more. This paper analyzes views expressed in that survey about genetic links to various human characteristics in the context of social constructionist wariness of connecting genomics to racial or ethnic groups. I conclude that, while constructionists’ normative concerns are entirely warranted, the American public may have more effective strategies for conceptualizing the link between race and genetic inheritance.
10:30-11:00 am: Rogers Brubaker, University of California Los Angeles, Sociology
The Return of Biology: Neo-objectivist and Neo-naturalist Challenges to Subjectivist and Constructivist Understandings of Race and Ethnicity
Social scientific understandings of race and ethnicity – if not popular understandings – had moved decisively “beyond biology” in the second half of the twentieth century. The triumph of subjectivist and constructivist understandings seemed to make biology irrelevant. Race was understood as “only skin deep”; it had no deeper biological reality. More recently, however, the increasing prestige and popularity of genetically grounded ways of understanding and explaining human differences have been reshaping popular understandings of race and ethnicity, informing new kinds of political claims, and challenging seemingly settled constructivist theories. This paper explores the implications of this “return of biology” for the theory and practice of race and ethnicity.
11:00-11:30 am: Ann Morning, New York University, Sociology
The Constructivist Concept of Race (working title)
Based on my interviews with over 40 university biologists and anthropologists, I discuss the concepts of race that academics in these natural and social sciences hold. I discern three main positions – “essentialist,” “constructivist,” and “anti-essentialist” – and argue that they do not correspond to disciplinary boundaries. Next drawing on my study of textbooks and interviews with college students, I will explain why the constructivist and anti-essentialist approaches have made little headway in the American public. I conclude by discussing three challenges for educators who wish to convey a constructivist perspective on race: (1) reconciling constructivism with the essentialist claims with which all Americans — and many others — are familiar; (2) illustrating how race can be a dependent variable, not just an independent; and (3) considering competing historical narratives about race as a one-time, European creation or as notion of human difference that has emerged independently in different times and places.
Questions from Discussant
Answers from the Panel Participants
Q&A (Open to all)
Panel II: Genetics/Genomics and Race
Race and ethnicity must confront the implications of the use of genetics and genomics. The panel examines the problems and prospects of genetic perspectives on our understanding of racial groups.
Chair: Jyotsna Vaid (Texas A&M, Psychology)
Discussant: Verna M. Keith (Texas A&M, Sociology)
2:30-3:00 pm: Jay Kaufman, McGill University, Epidemiology & Biostatistics
Nature versus Nurture in the Explanations for Racial/Ethnic Health Disparities
Many biomedical papers consider racial/ethnic health disparities not merely descriptively, but also with an interest in the etiology of the group differences. A common analytic strategy considers some measured set of environmental determinants that are imbalanced between groups, and attributes the residual disparity to intrinsic factors. There are profound limitations to this standard approach, which seeks to resolve the age old nature vs nurture question by the process of elimination. Moreover, nature and nurture are certainly not additive, so that one could not presume that the part unexplained by one must be attributable to the other. After nearly a decade of GWAS studies, however, one might finally begin to pose the question in the other direction, starting with what we have learned about intrinsic factors. I describe a decomposition of life- expectancy, comparing non-Hispanic blacks and whites using US death data from 2008, stratified by sex and cause of death. These data are then used to attempt a contemporary update of a prehistoric (i.e. 1984) nature vs nurture apportionment to see how much we have learned about disparities in the genomic era.
3:00-3:30 pm: Shirley Hsiao-Li Sun, Nanyang Technological University, Sociology
“Asian” as an Inherently Comparative Framework: Academic Regionalization and the Geneticization of Ethnicity in Asia
Over the last decade, advances in work in human genomics in Asia have been rapid and expanding. In 2009, the HUGO Pan-Asian SNP Consortium, an international research team led by Edison Liu of the Genome Institute of Singapore, mapped genetic variation and migration patterns in 73 Asian populations, with data coming from 11 Asian countries: Japan, Korea, China, Taiwan, Singapore, Thailand, Indonesia, Philippines, Malaysia, Thailand, and India. The main results – that “there is substantial genetic proximity of SEA [Southeast Asian] and EA [East Asian] populations – were published in Science (The Hugo Pan-Asian Consortium, 2009). In other words, the publication highlighted genetic “similarity” among Asians.
In this paper, drawing on document analysis and in-depth personal interviews with key human geneticists in Singapore and in Japan who participate in the Hugo Pan-Asian Consortium, I explore the role of race and ethnicities in the HUGO Pan-Asian SNP Consortium’s genomic work at different stages. Three findings are highlighted: (1) “Diversity” provides a framework for pursuing potential drug “discovery”. (2) However, the interview data also show that there is no consensus on the term “ethnicity” – it is defined by the local participating scientists. (3) Ethnicity was used as a proxy for genetic diversity as an attempt to solve the problems of a disease-orientation study design and to navigate around the issue of “national genomic sovereignty.” This paper suggests the HUGO Pan-Asian SNP consortium’s work has the potential to simultaneously undermine and reify the biological bases of the traditional notions of race and ethnicity.
3:30-4:00 pm: Alondra Nelson, Columbia University, Sociology
Excavating Ethnic Options: Genetics and Identity at the Lower Manhattan African Burial Ground
In 1991 archeologists uncovered several graves on a plot in lower Manhattan. These burials were discovered in the course of the completion of a land survey conducted by a commercial archeology company on behalf of the United States General Services Administration. The unearthed burials confirmed that the planned construction site was also the location of the “Negros Buriel Ground,” a former municipal cemetery for the city’s enslaved African population. The rediscovery of this colonial-era burial ground, with its promise of rare insight in to the life and death of bonds people, was an occurrence of great historical import. The political debate and scientific research that arose around the issue of the disposition of this landmark New York City cemetery—now a property of the National Parks Service and renamed the African Burial Ground National Monument—was foundational to the formation of the African Ancestry company and the subsequent proliferation of genetic analysis in black politics. This paper considers a major aspect of this development—the reframing of the significance of the burial remains by community activists. Cognizant of the history of scientific racism, the activists’ reframing was a retreat from standard forensic designation of individuals by “skin color” and stigmatizing “biological racing.” Apposite analysis of the burials, the activists argued, would return lost African “ethnicity” to both their ancestors and themselves.
4:00-4:15 pm: Break
4:15-4:45 pm: Wendy Roth, University of British Columbia, Sociology
Genetic Ancestry Testing and the Reification of Race
Direct-to-Consumer genetic ancestry testing is sold over the Internet by more than 40 companies worldwide and more than half a million people have taken these tests, which purport to tell a person about their geographic ancestral origins based on a DNA sample. Although most companies avoid using a language of race, the tests evoke the concept of race in their presentation and categorization of ancestral groups. Given that social scientists have worked to emphasize the social constructedness of race, this paper examines how these tests shape test-takers’ understanding of race and, specifically, whether they reify race as a natural or biological construct. Using longitudinal qualitative interviews with 115 people who have taken genetic ancestry tests, who identified before the tests as White, Black, Native American, Asian, and Hispanic, I argue that these tests reinforce a primordialist view of race among some, but certainly not all, test- takers. A greater knowledge of genetic science can help test-takers contextualize the tests results and support a constructionist view of race.
Questions from Discussant
Answers from the Panel Participants
Q&A (Open to all)
Saturday, May 4:
Panel III: Non-Western Cultural/Historical Approaches to Race
Much of the literature on race and ethnicity takes the US and European experience as its context. The papers in this panel seek to broaden the horizons beyond the American/European model and into non-Western perspectives.
Chair: Sarah Gatson (Texas A&M, Sociology)
Discussant: Joseph O. Jewell (Texas A&M, Sociology)
9:00-9:30 am: Sharmila Rudrappa, University of Texas, Austin, Sociology
Reconsiderations of Race: Commissioning Parents and Transnational Surrogacy in India
Surrogacy is generally perceived to be eugenic; rather than choosing to adopt children, commissioning parents carefully select eggs for “quality” or they want to promulgate themselves, and their family lineages. Yet, many couples/ individuals from Australia and the U.S. who seek cross-border reproductive care, that is, pursue infertility services in India, specifically surrogacy, choose Indian egg donors about whom they have very little or no information. This raises interesting questions on genetic lineage, family and race. What does it mean for commissioning parents to have, and raise biracial children? Does biological race matter at all, and if it does, in what ways? Building from interviews with 70 surrogate mothers and 31 egg donors the southern Indian city of Bangalore, and 20 gay and straight commissioning in the U.S. and Australia, I examine the contestations over race and lineage, and the complicated ways by which genetic notions of race get translated into mundane ideals of family. My work on transnational surrogacy suggests that it is not as if biological notions of race do not matter to commissioning parents; instead, these genetic realities are transformed into racial ephemera in recasting family genealogies.
9:30-10:00 am: Mara Loveman, University of Wisconsin-Madison, Sociology
In Search of an Antidote to the Re-naturalization of Race: Lessons from Latin America
The addition of genetic information to large-scale population surveys used for medical and social scientific research has opened new frontiers in the science of human population diversity and its consequences; these new data and their varied uses have also raised the specter of the reinvention of biological race. Social scientists’ primary response to this development to date has been to insist that race is a social construct, not a product of nature. This paper argues that invoking the refrain that “race is socially constructed” is an ineffective antidote to the renaturalization of race. A more promising approach is to embrace one of the principal mediums through which race is naturalized in scientific research, and redeploy it to do the work of de-naturalization. Specifically, this paper argues, (1) that scientific use of statistics to describe and analyze variation in human populations is a principle culprit in the renaturalization of race in the wake of the genetic/genomic revolution. In this respect, the specific means through which race is naturalized in much contemporary genetics/genomics research is not all that different from the means through which race was naturalized in scientific research prior to the revolution in genetics; And (2) inherent in the power of statistics to naturalize race is the power to contribute to its de-naturalization. Drawing on a series of examples from research on Latin American populations, the paper suggests how a set of simple modifications in how researchers approach statistical analysis of human diversity could, cumulatively, help to neutralize if not fully counteract the resurgent notion that race is natural.
10:00-10:30 am: Ruha Benjamin, Boston University, Sociology and Harvard Kennedy School of Government
Recasting Race, Provincializing Science: Genomic Sovereignty and the Mapping & Marketing of Populations
In this presentation, I consider the challenges and opportunities that grow out of ‘genomic sovereignty’ as an emergent science policy frame in the Global South. Unlike pan-indigenous advocacy groups that have asserted group sovereignty claims to opt-out of genomics research, these governmental policies set out proactive research agendas to stimulate health and economic gains. Far from nullifying the significance of race or diminishing the salience of nationalism, as proponents of genomic science had initially forecast after the completion of the Human Genome Project, population genomics draws upon and reinvigorates racial and nationalist understandings of human difference in often-unexpected ways. Here I investigate the relationship between pharmacogenomic drug development and ‘genomic sovereignty’ policies as a site of racial resuscitation, in a broader effort to elucidate the legitimizing function of genomics across varied sociopolitical contexts. I build upon the framework of bioconstitutionalism in which developments in the life sciences and new political rights claims are understood as inextricable, to argue that these are different from nonscientific political struggles, because the question of what the state owes particular groups is intimately connected to biological definitions of what constitutes a group in the first place. Finally, I ask session participants to think together about what alternative forms of knowledge production and science regulation might lie between the global genome qua internationalism and the national genome qua sovereignty.
10:30-11:00 am: Michael Keevak, National Taiwan University, Foreign Languages and Literatures
How Did East Asians Become Yellow?
In their earliest encounters with East Asia, Europeans almost uniformly characterized the people of China and Japan as white, yet by the end of the seventeenth century the category of whiteness was reserved for Europeans only. When and how did Asians become “yellow” in the Western imagination? Looking at the history of racial thinking, this talk will explore the notion of yellowness and show that the label originated not in early travel texts or objective descriptions, but in the eighteenth- and nineteenth-century scientific discourses on race. The conceptual relationship between East Asians and yellow skin did not begin in Chinese culture or Western readings of East Asian cultural symbols, but in anthropological and medical records that described variations in skin color. Eighteenth-century taxonomers such as Carl Linnaeus, as well as Victorian scientists and early anthropologists, assigned colors to all racial groups, and once East Asians were lumped together as members of the “Mongolian race” they began to be considered yellow.
Questions from Discussant
11:25 am-12:15 am:
Answers from the Panel Participants
Q&A (Open to all)
Panel IV: Health/ Medicine and Race
A cardinal area of the intersection of race and natural science research is medicine and health. The panel will analyze various perspectives on biomedical research and health outcomes for different racial/ethnic groups.
Chair: Edward Murguia (Texas A&M, Sociology)
Discussant: Francisco Pedraza (Texas A&M, Political Science)
1:30-2:00 pm: Carolyn Rouse, Princeton University, Anthropology
Evidence of What?: Recreating Race through Evidence-Based Approaches to Social Improvement
Evidence-based approaches to social and economic development gained tremendous currency in the early 21st century. In medicine, evidence was calculated based on the statistical strength of existing randomized studies. The goal was to improve patient outcomes. Scholars and leaders of economic and social development followed, taking up the mantel of evidence-based approaches to determining best practices in everything from mosquito net distribution to incentivizing vaccinations. But evidence-based approaches to health care have done little to reduce health disparities, and evidence-based approaches to development have even more mixed results. This paper discusses why the promises of evidence-based approaches rarely live up to expectations. At issue is the fact that what constitutes evidence has been closely tied to theories of modernity and unilineal notions of progress. Even more problematic is the fact that understandings of social improvement are often deeply entangled in cultural notions of taste built less on science than on social dispositions and beliefs about rationality. This paper reconsiders how race is made anew in the 21st century by detailing how the modern/primitive binary makes it way into evidence-based knowledge.
2:00-2:30 pm: Joan Fujimura, University of Wisconsin-Madison, Sociology
Confounded Categories: Contested Histories and Consequences of
HapMapping DNA to Geographies
This paper examines the history and current uses of the International Haplotype Mapping Project, which was organized by an international consortium of biomedical researchers who are attempting to catalog genetic variants in human genomes. Some scholars have argued that the HapMap Project was/is a race-based project, while others have argued against that view. This paper examines these multiple perspectives by focusing on two sets of practices: how the HapMap samples (HapMap 1-3) were collected, and how the HapMap samples have been and are currently used in population genetics and biomedical genetics. The paper will examine whether, where, and how “race” is used in collection practices and in the consequent biomedical research. The primary aim of this study is to write a brief history of the HapMap Project from multiple perspectives to understand if and how this world geographic project is read within the context of U.S. race relations and race theory, and if and how U.S. race relations and race theory are read back onto world geography and history.
2:30-3:00 pm: Catherine Bliss, University of California San Francisco, Sociology
The Sociogenomic Paradigm
I will discuss the move in the genomic sciences toward recasting race as a multifaceted entity worth understanding from a genomic perspective. By the middle of the decade of the genome, one could say that the field had assumed a sociogenomic approach to race—a view that race has a genetically determined component and a socially constructed component. Scientists facing scrutiny from editors, social scientists, public health experts, and bioethicists adopted social epidemiological frames for investigating the molecular, and made racial health disparities a focus of their work. I will show that while the genome projects were becoming ever more racialized in the first years of that decade, genomicists’ engagement with the wider scientific community, with critics of genomics, and with the public encouraged them to turn race-consciousness into a sociogenomic paradigm. As scientists were called on to solve public health dilemmas around race and health disparities, they made the study of social problems, identity, representation, and minority recruitment a mainstay of their race-positive investigations.
3:00-3:15 pm: Break
3:15-3:45 pm: Mary Campbell, Texas A&M University, Sociology
Interracial Contact and Health Behaviors with Jenifer Bratter, Rice University, Sociology
This project investigates how we can challenge common assumptions about the meaning of “race” in health disparities research by focusing on variation in health behaviors across three types of interracial contact: individual-level (multiracial identity), family-level (presence in an interracial family), and neighborhood-level (living in a racially integrated neighborhood). Through comparisons of adults of various backgrounds in “mixed” and “unmixed” contexts, we examine the assumptions made about the characteristics of those contexts and the repertoire of health behaviors for racial/ethnic groups. As increasing numbers of individuals identify with multiple “racial” communities, what are the implications for racial/ethnic differences in health profiles and how we articulate their meaning?
Questions from Discussant
Answers from the Panel Participants
Q&A (Open to all)
5:00-6:00 pm: Wrap-Up
Ken Meier (Texas A&M, Political Science)
Arthur Sakamoto (Texas A&M, Sociology starting 2013 Fall)
Diego von Vacano (Texas A&M, Political Science)