A Technoethical Approach to the Race Problem in Anthropology

A Technoethical Approach to the Race Problem in Anthropology

Michael S. Billinger (Edmonton Police Service, Canada)
Copyright: © 2009 |Pages: 25
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60566-022-6.ch004
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Despite the fact that analyses of biological populations within species have become increasing sophisticated in recent years, the language used to describe such groups has remained static, thereby reinforcing (and reifying) outdated and inadequate models of variation such as race. This problem is further amplified when the element of human culture is introduced. Drawing on Mario Bunge’s work on technoethics, in which he asserts that technology should be subject to social and moral codes, this chapter argues that the ‘race problem’ should compel anthropologists to exploit technology in order to find workable solutions. One solution to this problem may be found in modern approaches to human skeletal variation using advanced computing techniques such as geometric morphometrics, which allows for the comparison of bone morphology in three dimensions. Coupled with more complex theories of social and genetic exchange, technologically advanced methodologies will allow us to better explore the multidimensional nature of these relationships and to understand how group formation occurs, so that a dynamic approach to classification can be developed.
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What Is The Role Of Race In Anthropology?

The race concept in general, and the use of racial classification in anthropology in particular, are well researched as theoretical problems, and remain popular topics of academic inquiry. The race debate that was initiated by such esteemed anthropologists as Ashley Montagu and Claude Levi-Strauss in the 1940s and 1950s1 in response to the rising popularity of eugenics programs worldwide, seems to have reached its climax in mid-1990s, when much of the scientific world was appalled by the research coming out of the discipline of evolutionary psychology. Evolutionary psychologists such as Herrnstein and Murray (1994) and Rushton (1995) argued that inherent intellectual capabilities could be predicted by racial group membership. Much of the criticism of the race concept at that time was aimed specifically at this type of research, which drew a direct correlation between race, intelligence, and social achievement. It was presumed that these correlations were demonstrated by both differences in average brain size between racial groups and scores on intelligence tests.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Skeletal Morphology: The form and structure of the skeletal system and its individual elements.

Morphometrics: Measurement of skeletal morphological features, captured using calipers or 3D imaging

Homology: Similar evolutionary characteristics that are a product of descent from a common ancestor rather than a product of a similar environment

Cladistic: System of biological classification that groups organisms on the basis of observed shared characteristics in order to deduce the common ancestors

Taxonomic: Relating to the practice or principles of systematic classification

Phenetic: System of biological classification based on the quatification of overall physical similarities between organisms rather than on their genetic or developmental relationships

Ethnogenesis: The creation of a new ethnic group identity through the separation or combination of existing groups

Phylogenetic: The development over time of a species, genus, or group, as contrasted with the development of an individual (ontogeny)

Rhizotic: System of classification that emphasizes the extent to which each element (e.g. human language, culture, or population) is considered to be derived from or rooted in several different antecedent groups

Allele Frequencies: A measure of the relative frequency of an allele (one of two or more alternative forms of a gene, which control the same inherited characteristic) on a genetic locus in a population

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