Race and Science

Course Info

Course Number/Code: 21A.240 (Spring 2004)
Course Title: Race and Science
Course Level: Undergraduate
Offered By: Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)
Department: Anthropology
Course Instructor(s): Prof. Stefan Helmreich
Course Introduction:
Syllabus When you click the Amazon logo to the left of any citation and purchase the book (or other media) from Amazon.com, MIT OpenCourseWare will receive up to 10% of this purchase and any other purchases you make during that visit. This will not increase the cost of your purchase. Links provided are to the US Amazon site, but you can also support OCW through Amazon sites in other regions. Learn more.Overview

The category of "race" has often been used to naturalize social inequality by assigning people to hierarchically ordered groupings based on assumed biological difference. Scientific discourse has been a key resource in the history of this practice. But it has also been a crucial tool for dismantling race. In the first portion of this course, "The Alchemy of Race: Making and Unmaking Scientific Racism," we will examine these twin tendencies, reading about the rise of evolutionary racism alongside ideas about reproduction and sex; early twentieth century contests over eugenics in the U.K. and U.S.; Nazi notions of "racial hygiene"; race in the nation-building projects of Latin America; and trends in biological theory from studying race to evaluating populations to, today, examining genomes. We will also look at links between race and medical practice. The second portion of this class, "Reformulating Race: Making and Remaking the Idioms of Science," looks more keenly at the place of race in formulating the problems, approaches, and epistemologies animating scientific work more generally, even when it is not centrally about race as such. We try to understand how the practice of science - and the fashioning of technologies - can be racially marked in both oppressive and liberatory ways, by both dominant and marginalized groups. We want to know, for example, how "whiteness" might get written into science, and whether doing science from historically subordinated racial positions might allow us to see science and technology as well as the history of science and technology, differently. We examine these questions with particular attention to North American political contexts and racial formations. At the end of the course, we consider whether the logic of "race" might not be changing in our contemporary world of genomics and informatics, and with this the way we can usefully respond to configurations of race, science, and technology.

Required Books

Harding, Sandra, ed. The "Racial" Economy of Science: Toward a Democratic Future. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 1993. ISBN: 9780253326935.

Kevles, Daniel J. The Name of Eugenics: Genetics and the Uses of Human Heredity. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1986. ISBN: 9780520057630.


Students will write three 7-page papers, choosing from a selection of topics to be provided by the instructor for each paper. Each paper represents 30% of the subject grade. No emailed papers accepted. Students will also be evaluated on class participation, including discussion and in-class writing exercises (10% of subject grade). Punctual attendance is obligatory. There is no final.