Re: Are There Races?

G*rd*n (+@+.+)
29 Nov 1996 08:29:20 -0500 ():
| Would you please explain just what a "social construction" is?

Something people make up socially, like dividing the
succession of days up into sets of seven and naming each
member of the set. Nature didn't do this. ():
| Concepts
| are not things preexisting *out there* but rather abstractions of the
| stuff out there made by men. Sets and numbers are excellent examples. Now,
| concepts can be deep or shallow, useful or useless, and so on. Of course,
| concepts do originate in individual brains and until it is propagated, a
| concept would be private, not social. But other than my own private
| concepts (that is, ideas I am chewing over in my own mind), all the
| concepts I know about are social.

The term "social construct(ion)" may be non-optimal. What
would you suggest as a substitute? The idea here is that
we're trying to differentiate constructions which are
entirely social from those which seem to correspond to
definable phenomenological patterns, e.g. the days of the
week versus the law of gravity. ():
| So saying that race is a social construct seems rather trivial to me.

It would be if we were talking philosophy. We could also
discuss whether anything was real, and so forth. When I
entered this discussion I accepted certain assumptions; I
don't know how far down you want to go in questioning these
assumptions. If you want to discuss whether biology and
physics and the subjects thereof are real, though, you're
probably looking in the wrong newsgroups.

I've been assuming that we agree, at least for the
discussion, that biological concepts like genes and
speciation are "real": we can reliably define them and
collect information about them from phenomena. Race, on
the other hand, does not seem, to me, to be real in the
same sense; it seems to be generated entirely on the level
of social relations in an arbitrary way. Does this clear
up the epistemological and ontological bases of my

| >| to find out what the race deniers would count as a meaningfully biological
| >| race. That thread has degenerated into attacks on Bob Whitaker.

| >See above. By the way, some anthropologists have used the
| >term "race" to denote various biologically-based groupings.
| >The problem is not that one can't define "races" but that
| >there isn't a biological definition which corresponds to the
| >social definition, especially in North America, where the
| >issue is so exciting. ():
| I'm not sure that there is only one social definition of race in North
| America, but your assertion means, I take it, that you have examined all
| the proposed biological definitions of race and have found none of them
| corresponding to "the" social definition.

I've never seen a physical definition of race which
corresponds to the common usage of "White" and "Black" in
North America, as I perceive it. It's true that the social
definition can be pretty vague, which is evidence of its
arbitrary nature, but I think there are some sociological
studies out there. So are you saying that the social
convention is so incoherent that one can't even say it's
arbitrary? I'm not sure what your point is here. ():
| Also, are biologists social? They write articles, attend conferences, and
| so on.

Again, if you want to discuss epistemology and ontology
in the sciences, there are ongoing discussions in other
newsgroups. ():
| And why is a lack of correspondence a "problem"?

Racialists generally contend that race is not arbitrary. My
impression of the people I've been arguing with is that they
believe in the physicality of race. It's apparently very
hard to get nationalism or racialism going without some
kind of mythology that attributes one's set to Nature or
the gods, although in theory some people could just decide
they were the Blue-Green people, and take it from there. ():
| >| But let me just ask this: how many cultures are there in the world?

| >It depends on what you call "a culture." It's usually
| >a vague term whose meaning has to be taken from context. ():
| I was just bringing this up because one of the arguments against the
| existence of races is that anthropologists come up with wildly different
| accounts. This supposedly implies that race is just a cultural construct.
| If so, then cultures have to be real.

Culture can be real, but the number of cultures (particular
realizations of culture) may not be denumerable, or the
categorization may be arbitrary. ():
| But using the same argument against
| the existence of races, namely that there is no agreement as to their
| numbers, could be against the reality of cultures as well. No cultures, no
| cultural (or social) constructs.

Well, I wasn't making that argument. As I said, you can
take a human population and make up as many races as you
want, up to the number of individuals. (Actually, if you
allowed individuals to belong to more than one race, you
could have _more_ races than individuals.)

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