Stevin Seminar: Race and Conceptual Change. Reconsidering the History and Future of Racial Classifications
Lecturer: Dr. David Ludwig
“Race” is widely considered a discredited scientific concept that was established by Enlightenment taxonomists but lost credibility over the course of the 20th century and became thoroughly debunked by post-war population biology and genetics. While it remains a consensus view that biological differences between human populations have no cognitive or behavioral implications, the concept of race has reemerged in debates about 21st-century genomics and biomedicine. Recent scholarship in the science studies discusses these developments by claiming that biological races are again “gaining in reality” and by questioning whether race is “still socially constructed”.
The aim of this talk is to argue that recent controversies about the status of race have to be understood in a broader context of conceptual change in science. “Race” is a historically variable term that is without stable referent but has been used to express vastly different biological, cultural, metaphysical, and political ideas. We therefore need to understand the history of race in terms of a historical ontology that acknowledges its referential instability. Finally, I argue that this perspective has relevant implications for the current state and the future of racial classifications. Instead of asking what races really are, we need to address the epistemic and social implications of different conceptual strategies in contemporary genomics and biomedicine.
Dr. David Ludwig is a researcher and Veni-laureate at the Faculty of Humanities, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam