Race in the Making: Cognition, Culture, and the Child’s Construction of Human Kinds

Race in the Making: Cognition, Culture, and the Child’s Construction of Human Kinds

The MIT Press
May 1996
243 pages
19 illus.
Cloth ISBN-13: 978-0-262-08247-1
Paper ISBN-13: 978-0-262-58172-1

Lawrence A. Hirschfeld, Professor of Anthropology & Psychology
Eugene Lang College, The New School for Liberal Arts

Race in the Making provides a new understanding of how people conceptualize social categories and shows why this knowledge is so readily recruited to create and maintain systems of unequal power.

Hirschfeld argues that knowledge of race is not derived from observations of physical difference nor does it develop in the same way as knowledge of other social categories. Instead, his central claim is that racial thinking is the product of a special-purpose cognitive competence for understanding and representing human kinds. The book also challenges the conventional wisdom that race is purely a social construction by demonstrating that a common set of abstract principles underlies all systems of racial thinking, whatever other historical and cultural specificities may be associated with them.

Starting from the commonplace observation that race is a category of both power and the mind, Race in the Making directly tackles this issue. Through a sustained exploration of continuity and change in the child’s notion of race and across historical variations in the race concept, Hirschfeld shows that a singular commonsense theory about human kinds constrains the way racial thinking changes, whether in historical time or during childhood.

After surveying the literature on the development of a cultural psychology of race, Hirschfeld presents original studies that examine children’s (and occasionally adults’) representations of race. He sketches how a jointly cultural and psychological approach to race might proceed, showing how this approach yields new insights into the emergence and elaboration of racial thinking.

Table of Contents

Series Foreword
1 Representing Race: Universal and Comparative Perspectives
On the Notion of Human Kinds
The Psychological Study of Race
Psychology, Race, and Causality
Psychology and the Reality of Racial Categories
On the Historical Specificity of Race
The Modernity of Race
Race and Instrumentality
Racial Thinking and Racial Theories
2 Mining History for Psychological Wisdom: Rethinking Racial Thinking
Common Sense and Race: A Proposal
Racial Differences Are Embodied
Racial Differences Are Natural
Race Is Enduring
Race Encompasses Nonobvious and Inner Qualities as Well as Outward Physical Ones
Conclusions: Causality, History, and Psychology
3 Domain Specificity and the Study of Race1
Language and the Domain-Specificity Hypothesis
Issues in Domain Specificity
The Acquisition of Domain-Specific Theories
Evolution and Domain Specificity
Domain Specificity and Problems of Cultural Variation
Domain-Specific Competence: A Characterization
Domain-Specific Competences as Guides to Partitioning the World
Domain-Specific Competences as Explanatory Frames
Domain-Specific Competences as Functional and Widely Distributed Devices
Domain-Specific Competences as Dedicated Mechanisms
Do Domain-Specific Competences Correspond to Domains of the External World?
Conclusion: Toward a Domain-Specific Account of Racial Thinking
4 Do Children Have a Theory of Race?1
Cognition, Race, and “Mature” Representations
Children’s Racial Thinking
A Note on Methodology
How Do We Know What the Young Child Thinks When Thinking Racially?
Study 4.1: The Identity of Race
Follow-up 1
Follow-up 2
Follow-up 3
Follow-up 4
Study 4.2: Switched at Birth: Race, Inheritability, and Essence
Follow-up 1
Follow-up 2
Follow-up 3
Conclusions: The Conceptual Origins of Folk Sociology
5 Race, Language, and Collective Inference1
Categories and Inference
Language, Society, and Inductive Inference
Children’s Understanding of Language Variation
Study 5.1: Mapping Languages onto Social Categories
Study 5.2: Are All Social Contrasts Informative of Language Differences?
Language Differences and Social Contrast
Race and Social Contrast
Study 5.3: Intelligibility, Language Structure, and Race
6 The Appearance of Race: Perception in the Construction of Racial Categories1
An Alternative Model
Implications of the Alternative Model
Testing the Model
Study 6.1: Appearances and Memory for Narrative
Study 6.2: Verbal Descriptions from Visual Narratives
Labeling and Sorting Results
Narrative Tasks
7 The Cultural Biology of Race1
Race, Biology, and Society
Children’s Understanding of the Inheritability of Race
Social versus Biological Interpretation
Essentialism in Children’s Reasoning about Race
Study 7.1: Mixed Parentage, Category Membership, and Resemblance
Results from Category-Identity Task
Study 7.2: The Inheritance of Racial and Nonracial Features
Study 7.3: Inheritance of Skin Color and Hair Color in Animals
Study 7.4: Community, Race, and Beliefs about Inheritability
Children’s Biological and Racial Thinking
Racial Identity and Essentialist Reasoning
Summary of Results
Race and Other Intrinsic Kinds
Race, Biology, and Perception
Race and Culture
Human Kinds in Culture and Cognition
Experiment 7.1: Stimulus Story, Character Assignment 1
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