Divisions over what constitutes race remain widespread, even among academics, according to research by New York University sociologist Ann Morning. Her findings appear in the newly released The Nature of Race: How Scientists Think and Teach about Human Difference (University of California Press, July).
“Despite many social scientists’ claim that academics have come to a common understanding that race is a social invention, rather than a biological fact, my interviews with anthropologists and biologists reveal they are quite divided on this point,” explains Morning, an associate professor in NYU’s Department of Sociology. “Not only are there differences between the social and natural scientists, but there is also a wide range of opinions within their disciplines.”
Morning also finds that American high-school textbooks today, in both the social and biological sciences, tend to teach that race is a biological characteristic of the human body rather than a social construct.
“Their definitions of race and discussions of genetic disease reinforce the idea of race as an innate, biologically determined attribute,” Morning writes, adding that none of the biology textbooks she studied “put forth the argument that the racial boundaries drawn among human beings can be understood as social, political, and historical products.”
Drawing from in-depth interviews with biologists, anthropologists, and undergraduates, Morning explores different conceptions of race and examines, in particular, how scientists are influencing ideas about race through teaching and textbooks. She also discusses new genetic accounts of race, and considers how corporations and the government use scientific research—for example, in designing DNA ancestry tests or census questionnaires—in ways that often reinforce the idea that race is biologically determined.
Reporters interested in speaking with Morning should contact James Devitt, NYU’s Office of Public Affairs, at 212.998.6808 or firstname.lastname@example.org. For review copies, contact Heather Vaughan, University California Press, at email@example.com.