Racial Taxonomy in Genomics

Racial Taxonomy in Genomics

Social Science & Medicine
Volume 73, Issue 7, October 2011
pages 1019–1027
DOI: 10.1016/j.socscimed.2011.07.003

Catherine Bliss, Andrew W. Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow, Race and Science Studies
Department of Africana Studies
Brown University

This article examines the reflexive, biosocial nature of genomic meaning making around race, drawing on discourse analysis of 732 articles on genomics and race published from the years 1986 to 2010, in-depth interviews with 36 of the world’s most elite genomics researchers, interviews with 15 critics, policymakers, and trainees involved in debates over race, and participant observation at a core genotyping facility that specializes in ancestry estimation. I reveal how biomedical researchers identify with, value, and make sense of the taxonomies they construct. My analysis goes beyond a consideration of instrumental rationales to analyze the experiential and political motivations that shape how researchers get involved in racial ethical dilemmas. I theorize taxonomic practice as a reflexive form of biosociality, a conscious shaping of social notions about biology and race to produce a future that researchers themselves want to live in. I demonstrate how reflexive biosociality paradoxically leads researchers to advance social explanations for race while investing in genomics as a solution to racial quandaries.

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