What “Race” Does: Pluralism in Post-WWII Population Genetics

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Abstract Summary
It has been a matter of debate among historians of science whether “race” disappeared as a category in the biological sciences with the evolutionary synthesis and rise of population genetics. It has become commonplace among philosophers of science to refer to a “race debate” currently underway about the epistemological and ontological status of race as a biological category, especially in genomics. Embedded in these debates is the assumption that there is such a thing that race is, such that the debate might be resolved one way or another. However, if we consider the influential American population geneticists Dobzhansky, Cavalli-Sforza, and Lewontin, whose contributions during the decades following WWII laid theoretical foundations that are important for genomics today, we find a plurality of race concepts and a range of significances attached to the use of racial designations—not only among the three geneticists but within the writings of each. Given that there is not such a thing that race is, even for population geneticists, what matters is to pay close empirical attention to the disciplinary, historical, and political contexts in which scientists deploy race concepts and racial designations in order to discern not what race is, but what race does. 
Abstract ID :
HSS726
Submission Type
Abstract Topic
Chronological Classification :
20th century, late
Self-Designated Keywords :
race, genetics

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