Tag Archives: race

Sebastián Gil-Riaño on “Relocating Anti-Racist Science”

A forthcoming article in The British Journal for the History of Science, available now online,  on mid-twentieth century anti-racist science may be of interest to AHP readers.

Relocating anti-racist science: the 1950 UNESCO Statement on Race and economic development in the global South,” by Sebastián Gil-Riaño. Abstract:

This essay revisits the drafting of the first UNESCO Statement on Race (1950) in order to reorient historical understandings of mid-twentieth-century anti-racism and science. Historians of science have primarily interpreted the UNESCO statements as an oppositional project led by anti-racist scientists from the North Atlantic and concerned with dismantling racial typologies, replacing them with population-based conceptions of human variation. Instead of focusing on what anti-racist scientists opposed, this article highlights the futures they imagined and the applied social-science projects that anti-racist science drew from and facilitated. The scientific experts who participated in drafting the first UNESCO Statement on Race played important roles in late colonial, post-colonial and international projects designed to modernize, assimilate and improve so-called backward communities – typically indigenous or Afro-descendent groups in the global South. Such connections between anti-racist science and the developmental imaginaries of the late colonial period indicate that the transition from fixed racial typologies to sociocultural and psychological conceptualizations of human diversity legitimated the flourishing of modernization discourses in the Cold War era. In this transition to an economic-development paradigm, ‘race’ did not vanish so much as fragment into a series of finely tuned and ostensibly anti-racist conceptions that offered a moral incentive for scientific elites to intervene in the ways of life of those deemed primitive.

Ezra Klein on the Genetics of IQ

Ezra Klein, founder of the “explainer” media company Vox, has written a long piece arguing that, given the long-fraught character of race relations in American society, it is nearly impossible to fairly interpret studies that purport to show that racial differences in IQ are genetic in origin. Klein’s article frames the topic in the context a recent podcast in which “new atheist” blogger Sam Harris defended Charles Murray against his many highly vocal critics. (Murray is co-author of the 1994 book The Bell Curve, in which he endorsed the claim that persistent racial gaps in IQ are the result of genetic differences.)

Although Klein’s article begins there (and Harris has responded with vociferous denials, claims of defamation, and the puzzling release of an old e-mail exchange with Klein), the article soon shifts focus to the more general question of whether anyone can make sense of racial claims of this sort without first coming to terms with the long, sordid history of racial prejudice in the US.

Klein summarizes his view thus:

Research shows measurable consequences on IQ and a host of other outcomes from the kind of violence and discrimination America inflicted for centuries against African Americans. In a vicious cycle, the consequences of that violence have pushed forward the underlying attitudes that allow discriminatory policies to flourish and justify the racially unequal world we’ve built.

Although Harris advances the belief that racialist views like Murray’s are “forbidden” in today’s culture of “political correctness,” Klein notes that there is nothing new in such views; they have been openly held in American society literally for centuries, and are, indeed, the foundation upon which many American institutions were founded.

Klein also considers seriously the view of IQ researcher James Flynn (of the ”Flynn Effect”), who has explained the marked rise in average IQs over the past century in terms of the increasing cognitive demands of the modern technological world that we have created. However, Klein continues,

Over hundreds of years, white Americans have oppressed black Americans — enslaved them, physically terrorized them, ripped their families apart, taken their wealth from them, denied their children decent educations, refused to let them buy homes in neighborhoods with good schools, locked them out of the most cognitively demanding and financially rewarding jobs, deprived them of the professional and social networks that power advancement.

Among the many, many awful effects this has had is to deny black Americans the full cognitive advantages of navigating the modern economy, of wearing their scientific spectacles. For this reason, Flynn argues that “the black/white IQ gap is probably environmental in origin.”

Harris and Murray do not take this scenario seriously, according to Klein, nor do they consider its relevance to claims of genetic differences. Instead, Harris and Murray shift the argument to one in which white advocates of the genetic theory of racial inferiority are the real victims, attacked for “daring” to suggest what has, in fact, been a central trope throughout much of American history.

Klein and Harris have apparently agreed to appear together on one or the other of their popular podcasts. It might well prove to be a tense encounter.

Centaurus Articles on Cold War Social Science, Race, and Anthropology

Karl von Baer, 1865

A number of recent articles in Centaurus may be of interest to AHP readers. Titles, authors, and abstracts follow below.

“Détente Science? Transformations of Knowledge and Expertise in the 1970s,” by Rüdiger Graf. Abstract:

Scrutinizing the multifaceted relationship between the history of science and the political, economic and cultural transformations of the 1970s, while acknowledging that ‘Cold War [social] science’ has proven to be a fruitful heuristic concept, the paper asks if– in a period decreasing confrontation –there was also a ‘détente [social] science’? First, it presents a short overview of the most significant transformations of the 1970s and sketches if and to what extent developments in the realm of science influenced them or even brought them about. Secondly, the perspective will be turned around. After developing the concept of Cold War Science in greater detail, the paper asks whether the changes of the 1970s influenced the development of the natural and social sciences. In particular, it analyzes their influence on the conceptions of knowledge and expertise that have been described as constitutive elements of Cold War Science. In conclusion, it tries to assess if these changes amount to anything that might be labelled fruitfully as détente science.

“Geography, Race and the Malleability of Man: Karl von Baer and the Problem of Academic Particularism in the Russian Human Sciences,” by Nathaniel Knight. Abstract:

The question of national specificity in science was vigorously debated in 19th century Russia and remains relevant to the geographical and cultural contextualization of scholarship. This article introduces the term academic particularism to denote this phenomenon and addresses it through an examination of the career, ideas and legacy of Karl von Baer in the fields of geography, ethnology and physical anthropology. The article traces significant shifts in Baer’s interests and views after his relocation to Russia in 1835 and identifies a cluster of key ideas present in Baer’s work in the mid-19th century that were further developed by subsequent scholars in the late 19th century and came to constitute a distinctive strain in the Russian human sciences.

“‘With the Risk of Being Called Retrograde’. Racial Classifications and the Attack on the Aryan Myth by Jean-Baptiste d’Omalius d’Halloy (1783–1875),” by Maarten Couttenier. Abstract: Continue reading Centaurus Articles on Cold War Social Science, Race, and Anthropology

What Nostalgia was: War, Empire, and the Time of a Deadly Emotion

Thomas Dodman’s What Nostalgia was: War, Empire, and the Time of a Deadly Emotion may be of interest to AHP readers. The book is described as follows:

Nostalgia today is seen as essentially benign, a wistful longing for the past. This wasn’t always the case, however: from the late seventeenth century through the end of the nineteenth, nostalgia denoted a form of homesickness so extreme that it could sometimes be deadly.

What Nostalgia Was unearths that history. Thomas Dodman begins his story in Basel, where a nineteen-year-old medical student invented the new diagnosis, modeled on prevailing notions of melancholy. From there, Dodman traces its spread through the European republic of letters and into Napoleon’s armies, as French soldiers far from home were diagnosed and treated for the disease. Nostalgia then gradually transformed from a medical term to a more expansive cultural concept, one that encompassed Romantic notions of the aesthetic pleasure of suffering. But the decisive shift toward its contemporary meaning occurred in the colonies, where Frenchmen worried about racial and cultural mixing came to view moderate homesickness as salutary. An afterword reflects on how the history of nostalgia can help us understand the transformations of the modern world, rounding out a surprising, fascinating tour through the history of a durable idea.

Entitled to Addiction? Pharmaceuticals, Race, and America’s First Drug War

A new article in the Fall 2017 issue of the Bulletin of the History of Medicine may be of interest to AHP readers. Full details below.

“Entitled to Addiction? Pharmaceuticals, Race, and America’s First Drug War,” by David Herzberg. Abstract:

This article rethinks the formative decades of American drug wars through a social history of addiction to pharmaceutical narcotics, sedatives, and stimulants in the first half of the twentieth century. It argues, first, that addiction to pharmaceutical drugs is no recent aberration; it has historically been more extensive than “street” or illicit drug use. Second, it argues that access to psychoactive pharmaceuticals was a problematic social entitlement constructed as distinctively medical amid the racialized reforms of the Progressive Era. The resulting drug control regime provided inadequate consumer protection for some (through the FDA), and overly punitive policing for others (through the FBN). Instead of seeing these as two separate stories—one a liberal triumph and the other a repressive scourge—both should be understood as part of the broader establishment of a consumer market for drugs segregated by class and race like other consumer markets developed in the era of Progressivism and Jim Crow.