Amsterdam Institute for Social Science Research (AISSR)

Ir/relevance of Race in Science and Society

About the Seminar Series

Following the renowned UNESCO document on race (1951), race as a biological object became an anathema. The document concluded that there was no biological evidence for race. In biomedical research population became the dominant concept and race was relegated to a domain of bad science. In addition, in social research and critical theory the existence of biological differences were combated with the dictum “not in our genes”. Differences and similarities between groups of people were thus mainly studied in terms of social, economic, geographic or cultural variables. However, with the emergence of large scale genetic research in the 1990s, it seems that race is back with a vengeance.

Race is being made relevant in a variety of fields such as medical practice and biomedical research, behavioral genetics and forensic policing, genetic genealogy and descent, to mention just a few fields where race has resurfaced. Given the growing relevance of this historically invested, politicized and uneasy category, social scientists cannot but relate to race as an object of research. But how to do this in a manner that does not 'lock-up' differences in the body, the gene, or, the brain? How can we study race, maybe even use it as a concept of research, without naturalizing differences and reifying race as a biological entity? What can we learn from fields of studies, e.g. gender studies and scholarship on sex-differences, or social studies of medicine, about the constructed and fluid nature of 'biological' phenomena?

In this seminar series we discuss the relevance and irrelevance of race as an object and concept of research in order to explore ways to talk about race without naturalizing differences. We want to go beyond a standard definition of race, one that is allegedly relevant everywhere, and situate race in specific practices of research. In addition we want to give room to the various different versions of race that can be found in the European context and explore when and how populations, religions, and cultures become naturalized and racialized.

Scholars from different (inter)disciplinary fields (such as genetics, anthropology, philosophy, cultural studies, history, political sciences, science and technology studies) are invited to address the issue of race through a paper presentation. The seminar is held every six weeks at the University of Amsterdam. Twice a year a symposium is organised focused on a specific theme, such as The Ir/relevance of race in the anthropology of (bio)medical practices (January 2010), Doing Dutch-ness in Science, Language and Culture (May 2010) or Technologies of Belonging: Biology, Race and Ethnicity in Europe (June 2011).


Dr. Amade M’charek

Published by  University of Amsterdam

14 January 2015