DNA Electrophoresis

STS 140: Science and Race

This course examines race and racial formations in science, technology, and medicine. It addresses the history of racial thought in scientific and medical research; colonial and decolonial modes of knowledge production; and the racialization of technology. It also covers intersectional approaches to technoscience, social justice, environmental justice, and health care equity.

The category of race has been used to naturalize social inequality by assigning people to hierarchically ordered groupings based on assumed biological (and hereditary) 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.  The course will critically examine the place of race in formulating the problems, approaches, and epistemologies animating scientific work more generally, even in cases where scientific research may not centrally address race as such. 

The course will cover the history of the concept of “race” as it was constructed in the life sciences and the human sciences from the eighteenth century onwards, showing how thinking about scientific racial categories have changed over time and differed across regions. The arc of the course will address key historical moments and illustrative examples in which the scientific study of race has sometimes been used as an instrument of imperialism and colonialism, sometimes as an instrument of systemic injustice, and yet at other times as an element for resistance and contestation of entrenched social and scientific discourses about nature, difference, and identity. Topics will include: the concept of race in evolutionary biology and genetics; race in anthropology and the human sciences; the history of racial thought in medical research; scientific racism; race and human subjects research; colonial and decolonial modes of knowledge production; intersectional approaches to technoscience, social justice, environmental justice, and health care equity.


Illustrative Readings:

Bliss, Catherine. 2012. Decoding Race. Stanford: Stanford University Press.

Braun, Lundy. 2014. Breathing Race into the Machine: The Surprising Career of the Spirometer from Plantation to Genetics. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Fujimura, Joan and Troy Duster. 2008. “Race, Genomics, and Biomedicine,” special issue of Social Studies of Science 38/5.

Gould, Stephen Jay. 1981. The Mismeasure of Man. New York: Norton.

McClintock, Anne.  1995. “The Lay of the Land: Genealogies of Imperialism.”  In Imperial Leather: Race, Gender, and Sexuality in the Colonial Contest, 21-51.  New York: Routledge.

Morning, Ann. 2011. The Nature of Race: How Scientists Think and Teach about Human Difference. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Nelson, Alondra. 2016. The Social Life of DNA: Race, Reparations, and Reconciliation After the Genome. Boston: Beacon Press.

Owens, Deirdre Cooper. 2017. Medical Bondage: Race, Gender, and the Origins of American Gynecology. Athens: University of Georgia Press.

Reardon, Jenny. 2005. Race to the Finish. Princeton: Princeton University Press

Roberts, Dorothy. 2011. Fatal Invention: How Science, Politics, and Big Business Re-Create Race in the Twenty-First Century. New York: New Press.

Roberts, Dorothy. 1998. Killing the Black Body: Race, Reproduction, and the Meaning of Liberty. New York: Vintage.

Russell, Camisha. 2018. The Assisted Reproduction of Race. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.

Shah, Nayan. 2001. Contagious Divides: Epidemics and Race in San Francisco's Chinatown. Oakland: University of California Press.

Stepan, Nancy. 1993. “Race and Gender: The Role of Analogy in Science.” In The "Racial" Economy of Science: Toward a Democratic Future, ed. Sandra Harding. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.

Subramaniam, Banu. 2013. Ghost Stories for Darwin: The Science of Variation and the Politics of Diversity. Urbana: University of Illinois Press.

Tallbear, Kim. 2013. Native American DNA: Tribal Belonging and the False Promise of Genetic Science. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. 

Tamarkin, Noah. 2021. Genetic Afterlives: Black Jewish Indigeneity in South Africa. Durham: Duke University Press.