Argumenta – Journal of Analytic Philosophy

Recent human microbiome research has suggested that racial patterns between different groups of people can be understood as variation in how many and which microbes live in and on their bodies. Such racial classifications (from ‘Indigenous’ to ‘Black’ or ‘Caucasian’) are said to be helpful to better grasp microbiome-linked health-disparities (especially in the Global South) and diseases such as obesity and type 2 diabetes. In this paper, we argue that this assumption is illusive. We identify four different scenarios and argumentative patterns in current human microbiome research, which state that race matters for the field. However, we show that race should better be omitted in all these scenarios due to various conceptual and epistemic shortcomings. In addition, we acknowledge that there might still be an—admittedly minor—role for race to play in human microbiome research, namely in particular contexts and groups in which processes of racial self-identification matter for research participants. Based on this analysis, we urge scientists to reconsider the majority of racial classifications used in the field.

Postgenomic sciences like epigenetics and microbiome research pose new questions on the debate on the metaphysics and normativity of race (Lorusso and Bacchini 2022; Kaplan and Winther 2014; Meloni 2017; Baedke & Nieves Delgado 2019; Nieves Delgado & Baedke 2021; Chellappoo & Baedke 2023). In these sciences, the concept of biosocial race has been introduced to define the way social and environmental factors, like nutrition or stress, affect ‘the biological’, potentially creating differences that can be considered as biological racial differences, like patterns of DNA methylation or gut microbial composition. This implies that racial differences would not be located at the genetic level but would be produced by how…


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