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ToPHSS Lecture: Why Race is Still Socially Constructed

The CEU Campus
Tuesday, February 28, 2017, 1:30 pm – 3:10 pm

Social constructionism has become a widely endorsed position in contemporary philosophy of race. According to social constructionists, terms such as "white" and "black" refer to real human groups. However, they do not refer to biological populations but rather to social groups that have been created through racist privilege and subordination of people with different skin colors.  While social constructionism has become the default position in philosophy of race, the constructionist mainstream has been challenged by both biological realism and antirealism. Biological realists argue that the rejection of racism is compatible with accounts of races as biological populations while antirealists insist that racial categories refer to false racist ideas. The aim of this talk is to evaluate social constructionism in the light of these challenges. I argue that the biological challenge should be rejected. While it is indeed sometimes necessary to talk about human biological variation, the use of racial terminology in biological contexts is both unnecessary and harmful. The antirealist challenge requires a more nuanced response. While social constructionism is preferable in some contexts (e.g. debates about social stratification in American society) antirealism seems more adequate in other contexts (e.g. debates about "Rasse" in Germany).

ToPHSS Lectures are part of the project “Topics in the Philosophy of the Human and Social Sciences”, funded by the Humanities Initiative. The project aims to cross boundaries between disciplines of the humanities and social sciences concerned with ‘the human’, that is with human beings, humanity, society, culture, history, and more. It focuses on methodological and ontological issues, in particular on those concerned with contested categories of the humanities and social sciences, and of those primarily on the categories of human, individual and person. This term the first focus is on the contested divide between nature and culture.