Race: Investigation of a Controversial Concept
Ludovica Lorusso (Departament de Psicologia Social, Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona; University of Sassari, Italy)
Azita Chellappoo is a Lecturer at the Department of Philosophy, Open University, UK. She is a philosopher of biology/medicine whose work focuses on the intersection of or interface between the biological and the social. Her recent publications include “Rethinking Prestige Bias” in Synthese, an analysis of social learning biases and their relationship to cultural evolutionary theory, and “Contrasting Narratives of Race and Fatness in Covid-19” in Studies in History and Philosophy of the Life Sciences, an examination of the narratives that have arisen regarding health disparities during the pandemic. Her current work centres around the ways in which social categories, particularly race and fatness, are constructed and deployed in postgenomic science.
Abigail Nieves Delgado is an Assistant Professor of History and Philosophy of Science at the Freudenthal Institute at Utrecht University. Her research focuses on the use of racial categories in science, the political and anthropological dimensions of postgenomics (especially in epigenetics and microbiome research) as well as on the history of symbiosis and holobiont research. Other research interests are history of biometric technologies and the concept of bias, colonialism in science and technology and epistemic pluralism in ethnobiology. Two of her recent publications on the use of race in scientific practice are: “Does the human microbiome tell us something about race?” published in Nature: Humanities and Social Sciences Communications (2021) and “The face of the Mexican: Race, nation and criminal identification in Mexico” published in American Anthropologist (2020). In addition, she is currently coordinating a special issue on “Ethnobiology and Philosophy” to appear in the Journal of Ethnobiology.
Lewis R. Gordon
Lewis R. Gordon is Professor and Head of the Department of Philosophy at UCONN-Storrs; Honorary President of the Global Center for Advanced Studies; and Honorary Professor in the Unit for the Humanities at Rhodes University, South Africa. He co-edits the journal Philosophy and Global Affairs and the Routledge-India book series Academics, Politics and Society in the Post-Covid World. He is the author of many books, including, most recently, Freedom, Justice, and Decolonization (Routledge, 2021) and Fear of Black Consciousness (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2022; London: Penguin Books, 2022). He is this year’s recipient of the Eminent Scholar Award from the Global Development Studies division of the International Studies Association.
Kelly Happe is an Associate Professor in the Department of Communication Studies and the Institute for Women’s Studies at the University of Georgia. She works in the areas of feminist and Marxist theory, rhetoric and utopia, and science studies. She is the author of The Material Gene: Gender, Race, and Heredity after the Human Genome Project, co-editor of Biocitizenship: The Politics of Bodies, Governance, and Power, and a book review editor for the journal Philosophy and Rhetoric. Her current research focus is on the relationship between science and capital.
Jonathan Kaplan is a Professor of Philosophy at Oregon State University. His research interests include the philosophy of biology, race, and biomedicine. He is the author of The Limits and Lies of Human Genetic Research (2000) and Making Sense of Evolution (with Massimo Pigliucci, 2006).
Phila Msimang is a Lecturer in Philosophy at Stellenbosch University and a PhD candidate in Philosophy at Macquarie University. He is a founding member and the secretary of the Azanian Philosophical Society. He is presently engaged in projects looking at the use of race in the sciences and the problem of race in society more generally. His research interests are in the philosophy of race and minimal cognition with a focus on the metaphysics of race and degrees of intelligence in simple organisms.
Deadline for submission: December 30, 2022
Notification of acceptance: March 31, 2023
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The debate concerning the concept of human race is a longstanding debate that is still present in both the philosophical and the scientific literature.
In the last years the concept of human race has become popular again in science; in particular, in medical genetics it has been reintroduced to explain epidemiological differences among human groups and it is used as a proxy for genetic ancestry and genetic predispositions to diseases. The intention to restore an old and controversial concept like that of human race in biomedical research appears at least strange in a historical moment in which the goal of biomedical research is a personalized medicine based on individual genome characteristics. Moreover, in human population genetics the tendency of the last 50 years has been contrasting typological thinking about human categories and focusing on the clinal genetic variation among human populations (Caspari 2003; Handley et al. 2007; Barbujani & Colonna 2010; Templeton 2013). So, it seems that we should have very compelling reasons to reintroduce the concept of human race in biology. Do we really have these reasons?
Of course, a debate on human race exists in contemporary philosophy of biology. Yet philosophers of science mainly focus on the ontological issue of the reality of race: are human races real? While some defend racial anti-realism (Zack 2002; Glasgow 2009; Fujimura and Rajagopalan 2011), others defend racial realism. Among racial realists, some defend the existence of race as a “biological reality” (Andreasen 1998; Kitcher 1999; Sesardic 2010; Brandon 2018, Brandon 2022, Brandon forthcoming; Spencer 2014a, 2014b, 2018), and others consider race as a “social construct” (Root 2000; Taylor 2004; Haslanger 2008). These two views of racial realism have been considered as opposite, but whether they may be considered as opposite depends on what we mean for race to be “biologically real”. Many scholars tried to find concepts of races having a “biological reality”: races as “monophyletic groups” (Andreasen 2004; see also Brandon 2022); races as “inbred lineages” (Kitcher 1999); races as “ecotypes” (Pigliucci & Kaplan 2003); races as “populations characterized by different kinds of phenotypic and genetic properties” (Sesardic 2010). Others, in philosophy of science, also address epistemological issues about human race – for example, the issue of the legitimacy and/or opportunity of the use of the concept of race in biomedicine (Lorusso and Bacchini 2015, 2022; Msimang 2022). Here the main questions are: Is the concept of race useful in biomedical research? Is its use justifiable from an epistemological point of view? Can the concept of race be considered as a projectible concept in science?
Many scientists and philosophers of science simply assume that the concept of race should be considered as a useful and projectible biological concept in biomedicine. Usually, these scholars consider the concept of race being projectible in virtue of race specific genetic properties (see, e.g., Burchard 2003; Efstathiou 2012), although race is also characterised by social, cultural, and psychological properties. Other philosophers, by contrast, claim that the concept of race is not a projectible concept in virtue of race specific genetic properties (see, e.g., Gannett 2010; Lorusso 2011). Finally, few philosophers have started to claim that the projectibility, the usefulness, and justifiability of the concept of race can be grounded precisely in race being characterised by a complex set of social, cultural, psychological, and epigenetic properties (see, e.g., Lorusso 2014a, 2014b; Lorusso and Bacchini 2015, 2022).
This special issue aims to create a multidisciplinary discussion on the major problems investigated in philosophy of race, like the metaphysical status of race, the concepts of social and biological race, the problem of racial self- and other- identification in a racialized society, and the role of the race category in medicine, genomics, and postgenomics studies.
It also aims to call into question several assumptions often taken for granted in the scientific, philosophical, and social sciences literature, like for instance the assumption that there is a dichotomy between biological and social realism. Another assumption is that the decision whether we should use human race in scientific research is clearly dependent on our position in the realism vs. antirealism debate about race, in that we should employ the race variable if races do exist, while we should dismiss the race variable if there are no such things as human races. It is also philosophically crucial to investigate whether the normative component in the former question – expressed by the occurrence of the verb “should” – is ethical even more than epistemological or methodological, and whether it can be liberated from the latter. The resulting discussion about race should not retrace old debates, but instead explore new promising paths and allow the reader to develop a personal idea of what “race” can be and whether and how it could be ethically and epistemologically justified as a biological category in the age of genomics and postgenomics.
Papers from Political Sciences, Social Sciences, Philosophy, and Psychology are welcome.
Scholars having an intellectually diverse background and perspective are invited to rethink and discuss questions like:
- What does it mean for a race, ethnicity, or population to be a biological reality, and why does it matter?
- If there exists something real about race, what are its significance and possible roles in genomic and postgenomic science?
- Is the usefulness of the race category in science due to its genetic or social reality?
- How do we balance the ethical and epistemological aspects of the use of race in genomic and postgenomic science?
- Can race be a cause?
- Is the argument that “race does not exist” sufficient to eliminate racism in our societies?
- Do terms such as race, racialization, and racism assume different meanings across different fields like Philosophy, Political Sciences, Social Sciences, and Psychology?
Relevant publications of the invited contributors
Chellappoo, A. 2021. Contrasting Narratives of Race and Fatness in Covid-19. History and Philosophy of the Life Sciences, 43(4), pp. 1-24.
Chellappoo, A. 2021. Rethinking Prestige Bias. Synthese, 198(9), pp. 8191-8212.
Delgado, A.N., and Baedke, J. 2021. Does the Human Microbiome Tell Us Something About Race?. Humanities and Social Sciences Communications, 8(1), pp. 1-12.
Delgado, A.N. 2020. The Face of the Mexican: Race, Nation, and Criminal Identification in Mexico. American Anthropologist, 122(2), pp. 356-368.
Baedke, J. & Delgado, A.N. 2019. Race and Nutrition in the New World: Colonial shadows in the age of epigenetics. Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part C: Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences, 76, 101175.
Gordon, L.R. 2022. Fear of Black Consciousness. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux; London: Penguin Books.
Gordon, L.R. 2021. Freedom, Justice, and Decolonization. New York: Routledge.
Gordon, L.R. 2018. Black Aesthetics, Black Value. Public Culture, 30(1), pp. 19–34.
Gordon, L.R. 2008. An introduction to Africana Philosophy. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press. Revised and expanded 2nd Edition forthcoming in 2022.
Gordon, L.R. 2000. Existentia Africana: Understanding Africana Existential Thought. New York: Routledge.
Gordon, L.R. (Ed.) 1997. Existence in Black: An Anthology of Black Existential Philosophy. New York: Routledge.
Gordon, L.R. 1997. Her Majesty’s Other Children: Sketches of Racism from a Neocolonial Age. Rowman & Littlefield. Forthcoming, 25th Anniversary Edition in 2022, London, UK: Rowman & Littlefield International.
Gordon, L.R. 1995. Bad Faith and Antiblack Racism. Atlantic Highlands, NJ, Humanities International Press. (Went through 5 printings in 1995.) Acquired by Amherst, NY: Humanity/Prometheus Books, 1999.
Happe, K.E. 2022. The Biopolitics of Race Revisited. In L. Lorusso and R.G. Winther (Eds.). Remapping Race in a Global Context, pp. 247-264.
Happe, K.E., Johnson, J., & Levina, M. (Eds.). 2018. Biocitizenship: The Politics of Bodies, Governance, and Power (19). NYU Press.
Happe, K.E. 2013. The Material Gene: Gender, Race, and Heredity After the Human Genome Project (9). NYU Press.
Kaplan, J.M., 2022. The Biological Reality of Race: What is at Stake?. In L. Lorusso and R.G. Winther (Eds.). Remapping Race in a Global Context, pp. 164-183, Routledge.
Kaplan, J.M., and Valles, S.A. 2021. Reflecting on What Philosophy of Epidemiology Is and Does, as the Field Comes Into Its Own: Introduction to the Special Issue on Philosophy of Epidemiology. Synthese, 198(10), pp. 2383-2392.
Kaplan, J.M. 2015. Race, IQ, and the Search for Statistical Signals Associated with So-Called ‘X’-Factors: Environments, Racism, and the ‘Hereditarian Hypothesis’. Biology and Philosophy. 30(1), pp. 1-17.
Kaplan J.M. and Winther, R.G. 2014. Realism, Antirealism, and Conventionalism about Race. Philosophy of Science, 81, pp. 1039–1052.
Kaplan, J.M. 2010. When Socially Determined Categories Make Biological Realities: Understanding Black/White Health Disparities in the U.S. The Monist. 93(2), pp. 283–299.
Pigliucci, M. and Kaplan, J. 2003. On the Concept of Biological Race and its Applicability to Humans. Philosophy of Science, 70(5), pp. 1161-1172.
Kaplan, J.M. and Pigliucci, M. 2006. Making Sense of Evolution. University of Chicago Press.
Kaplan, J.M. 2000. The Limits and Lies of Human Genetic Research. Routledge.
Msimang, P. 2022. Social Races in Biomedical Settings. In L. Lorusso and R.G. Winther (Eds.). Remapping Race in a Global Context, pp. 265-280. Routledge.
Msimang, P. 2020. Medicine, Anti-Realism, and Ideology: Variation in Medical Genetics does not Show that Race is Biologically Real. Northern European Journal of Philosophy, 20(2), pp. 117–140.
Andreasen, R.O. 1998. A New Perspective on the Race Debate. British Journal for the Philosophy of Science, 49, pp. 199-225.
Andreasen, R.O. 2004. The Cladistic Race Concept: A Defense. Biology and Philosophy, 19, pp. 425-442.
Barbujani, G. and Colonna, V. 2010. Human Genome Diversity: Frequently Asked Questions. Trends in Genetics, 26, pp. 285-295.
Burchard, E.G. 2003. The Importance of Race and Ethnic Background in Biomedical Research and Clinical Practice. The New England Journal of Medicine, 348, pp. 1170-1175.
Brandon, R.N. (forthcoming). The Challenge of Racial Differences. Biology and Philosophy.
Brandon, R.N. 2022. Five Advantages of the Phylogenetic Race Concept. In: Ludovica Lorusso and Rasmus Grønfeldt Winther (Eds.). Remapping Race in a Global Context, pp. 227-243. Routledge.
Brandon, R.N. 2018. Race Conventionalism. In: F. Merlin, and P. Hunneman, eds., Philosophie, Historie, Biologie. Melangesofferts a Jean Gayon. Paris: Editions Materiologiques, pp. 241–256.
Caspari, R. 2003. From Types to Populations: A Century of Race, Physical Anthropology, and the American Anthropological Association, American Anthropologist, 105, pp. 63–74.
Efstathiou, S. 2012. How Ordinary Race Concepts Get to Be Usable in Biomedical Science: An Account of Founded Race Concepts. Philosophy of Science, 79, pp. 701-713.
Fujimura, J. H. and Rajagopalan, R. 2011. Different Differences: The Use of “Genetic Ancestry” Versus Race in Biomedical Human Genetic Research. Social Studies of Science, 41(1), pp. 5–30.
Gannett, L. 2010. Group Categories in Pharmacogenetics Research, Philosophy of Science, 72, pp. 1232-1247.
Glasgow, J. 2009. A Theory of Race. New York: Routledge.
Handley, L.J.L. et al. 2007. Going the Distance: Human Population Genetics in a Clinal World, Trends in Genetics, 23, pp. 432-439.
Haslanger, S. 2008. A Social Constructionist Analysis of Race. In B. Koenig, S. Lee, & S. Richardson (Eds.), Revisiting Race in a Genomic Age, pp. 56-69. Piscataway, NJ: Rutgers UP.
Kitcher, P. 1999. Race, Ethnicity, Biology, Culture. In L. Harris (Ed.), Racism: Key concepts in critical theory, pp. 87-117. Amherst, MA: Humanity Books.
Lorusso, L. and Bacchini, F. 2022. Race as Witchcraft. An Argument Against Indiscriminate Eliminativism About Race. In L. Lorusso and R.G. Winther (Eds.). Remapping Race in a Global Context, pp. 281-308. Routledge.
Lorusso, L. and Bacchini, F. 2015. A Reconsideration of the Role of Self-Identified Races in Epidemiology and Biomedical Research, Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences, 52, pp. 56-64.
Lorusso, L. 2014a. Complex Causation in the Race Debate. In F. Bacchini, S. Caputo, and M. Dell’Utri (Eds.), New Advances in Causation, Agency and Moral Responsibility, Cambridge Scholars.
Lorusso, L. 2014b. (invited publication in Symposium “Race, Genomics, and Philosophy of Science”). The Epigenetic Hypothesis and the New Biological Role of Self-Identified Racial Categories, Critical Philosophy of Race, 2, pp. 183-203.
Lorusso, L. 2011. The Justification of Race in Biological Explanation, Journal of Medical Ethics, 37, pp. 535-539.
Pigliucci, M., and Kaplan, J. 2003. On the Concept of Biological Race and Its Applicability to Humans, Philosophy of Science, 70, pp. 1161-1172.
Rappaport, S.M. 2012. Discovering Environmental Causes of Disease. Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, 2, pp. 99-102.
Root, M. 2000. How We Divide the World, Philosophy of Science, 67, pp. S628-S639.
Sesardic, N. 2010. Race: A Social Destruction of a Biological Concept, Biology and Philosophy, 25, pp. 143-162.
Spencer, Q. 2018. A Racial Classification for Medical Genetics. Philosophical Studies, 175, pp. 1013-1037.
Spencer, Q. 2014a. A Radical Solution to the Race Problem. Philosophy of Science, 81, pp. 1025-1038.
Spencer, Q. 2014b. The Unnatural Racial Naturalism. Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part C: Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences, 46, pp. 38-43.
Taylor, P. 2004. Race: A Philosophical Introduction. Cambridge: Polity Press.
Templeton, A.R. 2013. Biological Races in Humans, Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences, 44, pp. 262-271.
Zack, N. 2002. Philosophy of Science and Race. New York: Routledge.
Instructions for authors: articles should be written in English and prepared for blind review. Articles should not exceed 8000 words, and submissions should include an abstract of no more than 250 words and five keywords for indexing purposes. For further instruction, please refer to the section Information for Authors. The editors kindly ask authors to notify the intent to submit beforehand. If possible, a title and a brief summary of the contribution’s content should be included. This will be of great assistance in the coordination and planning of the special issue.