(E08)
Topologies of race: bringing a touchy object in STS
Location Room 07
Date and Start Time 25 Jul, 2018 at 13:00
Sessions 2

Convenors

  • Lisette Jong (University of Amsterdam) email
  • Amade M'charek (University of Amsterdam) email

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Short abstract

Can STS be touched by race? Is it capable of taking an unruly yet utterly political object onboard? And to what effect? The aim is of this panel to bring into conversation various practices in which race is shaped and made relevant and to explore how race is affecting STS, its methods and concepts.

Long abstract

Can STS be touched by race? Is it capable of taking an unruly yet utterly political object onboard? And to what effect?

Although race has been tabooed in science ever since WWII, it never completely disappeared (Lipphardt 2012; Bengham 2015). In the past decades, as an effect of the growing role of the life sciences and its interest in difference, race is more clearly resurfacing, roaring its head in both science and society. Yet, and perhaps because of its political touchiness, race is an illusive and slippery object. An absent presence (Law & Singleton 2004).

In this panel our aim is to bring into conversation various practices in which race is shaped and made relevant. We hope to learn from the individual papers about what race is made to be in different practices. While in the conversations between them we also aim to explore how race is affecting STS. The topological approach helps to not only attend to race as a spatial and temporal configuration, but necessarily shifts our gaze to STS itself to inquire the methods and concepts through which we come to know race. Can STS deal with temporality? Is it capable of dealing with ghostly objects, such as race? Is it well equipped to calmly study an over-politicized, a touchy object? Can STS and race properly meet?

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.

Papers

Race in the New Life Sciences: how to analyze social and scientific effects of biological differentiations in Germany?

Author: Andrea zur Nieden (Albert-Ludwigs-Universität Freiburg) email
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Short abstract

The proposed paper intends to introduce and discuss with you the overall concept and first empirical findings of our newly established research group "Human Diversity in the New Life Sciences: Social and Scientific Effects of Biological Differentiations".

Long abstract

The proposed paper intends to introduce and discuss with you the overall concept and first empirical findings of our newly established research group "Human Diversity in the New Life Sciences: Social and Scientific Effects of Biological Differentiations" (together with Tino Plümecke and Nils Ellebrecht). During the last few decades and on the basis of new technological possibilities (molecular genetics, neuroimaging) has attention increasingly been redirected towards the biological diversity of humans. Our research group intends to provide the first systematic, empirical analysis of the effects of racial differentiation in a German context. To this end, six case studies will be conducted in the areas of medicine/epidemiology, neuroscience, pharmacology, forensics, evolutionary genetics and daily clinical practice.

Biological differentiation in the life sciences pursues such diverse goals as an improved understanding of disease, more exact forensic methods as well as a deeper knowledge of human migratory history. These approaches intersect with political efforts to even out the health inequalities between different (sexes and) races by representing all relevant groups in clinical studies, for example. In Germany, a renaissance of research into human biological diversity is (also for historical reasons) only in its infancy. Often, categories that seem less politically problematic are used, such as "Migrationshintergrund" (immigrant background) instead of race.

As the project is rooted in STS, we are eager to discuss how STS can cope with race, and if our methodological approaches to reveal the actual practices involved in how race is constructed and operationalized make sense.

The (in)visibilities of race through Forensic DNA Phenotyping technologies

Authors: Filipa Queirós (University of Minho) email
Helena Machado (University of Minho) email
Rafaela Granja (University of Minho) email
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Short abstract

The paper discusses the performative processes in which race is continuously being built within recent DNA technologies and explores the (in)visibilities of race through the perspectives of professionals who accompany directly the automatic exchange of genetic profiles to fight cross-border crime.

Long abstract

Criminal intelligence has been growing considerably over the last decades through the development of several genetic identification technologies. One of these latest technological innovations is Forensic DNA Phenotyping (FDP) that aims to infer selected externally visible characteristics and the biogeographic ancestry of criminal suspects using biological materials collected at crime scenes. As biogeographic ancestry predictions result from the division and differentiation of populations through continents or population groups, associations between these and categories of race and ethnicity are often made. Complementarily, externally visible characteristics predictions also incorporate specific ethnic and racial classifications. This results from the assemblage of individuals' data based on the idea that they share particular visible characteristics or a set of visible traits. Critical voices and STS scholars have highlighted how FDP technologies can easily, but at the same time invisibly, reaffirm biological categories of race and accentuate processes of discrimination and racialization of certain population groups, making them more vulnerable to suspicion.

Within a context of increasing criminalisation of minority population groups, race has reappeared at the surface in the last decades as a political object. Inspired by the conceptualization of race's absent presence, we discuss the performative processes in which race is continuously being built. Conclusively we explore the (in)visibilities of race through the perspectives of professionals who are accompanying directly the automatic exchange of genetic profiles to fight cross-border crime, under the so-called Prüm system.

Facing the unknown suspect. An inquiry into 'the face' generated through Forensic DNA Phenotyping

Author: Roos Hopman (University of Amsterdam) email
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Short abstract

The aim of this paper is to dissect the face (or rather, faces) of the unknown suspect that come into being through forensic DNA phenotyping, and by thinking with these four faces examine the ways in which race comes to figure in this practice.

Long abstract

Forensic DNA phenotyping is a technology geared towards inferring externally visible characteristics from DNA traces found at crime scenes. In criminal cases that have hit an impasse, it can be used to predict a suspect's physical appearance, with characteristics such as eye, hair and skin color inferred from particular parts of the DNA to generate the suspect's face. The aim of this paper, then, is to dissect the face (or rather, faces) of the unknown suspect that come into being through this technology, and examine the ways in which race comes to figure in the process. I examine four versions of the face that bring into view what race becomes through DNA phenotyping. The paper starts out by taking the face as a molecular configuration of genetic parts, then looks at it as a computational landscape, moves on to the face as an infrastructure that enables particular genealogies of knowledge to travel and finally considers the affective work the face does as it is sent out into the public sphere. By thinking with these four faces, this paper shows how and when race materializes in the forensic practice of DNA phenotyping.

Race as a multiple object in contemporary biomedicine

Author: Anna Bredstrom (ISV, Linköping University) email
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Short abstract

Drawing upon research on psychiatry and human genetics, the paper shows that the ontology of race in contemporary biomedicine is best conceptualised as 'multiple'. This points to the fruitfulness of combining STS-tools and critical race theory to examine how biomedicalization is stratified by race.

Long abstract

This paper probes the question of how biomedicalization is stratified by race. The rapid development of biotechnological science has in the view of biomedicalization theory (Clarke et al. 2010) produced a discursive shift where bodies are viewed as fragmented and manipulable, consisting of transferable elements and units (proteins, genes, molecules), and where 'life itself' has become subjected to a new 'politics of vitality' (Rose 2007). What results from this 'ontological shift' in human self-understanding is an ever-growing focus on health as well as an endless opportunity realm for the optimization of the body; we have become 'somatic' beings (ibid.).

Drawing upon two different research projects - one interrogating diagnostic procedures in psychiatry and the second analysing racial and ethnic constructions in human genetics in Sweden - I argue that while it is important to acknowledge that biomedicalized subjectivities - somatic beings - are not just unmarked beings, but bodies stratified along the lines of race/ethnicity (as well as other differences), the paper shows that race nonetheless is enacted differently in different biosciences. I thus argue that the ontology of race in contemporary biomedicine is best conceptualised as 'multiple' (Mol 2002), and that using STS tools would be a fruitful way to further develop a critical race theory of biomedicalization.

The interpretation of blood: how blood group anthropology imagined assimilation and rationalized discrimination in the colonial Korea

Authors: Joon Young Jung (Kyujanggak Institute for Korean Studies) email
Hyomin Kim (Ulsan National Institute of Science and Technology) email
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Short abstract

This article examines how techno-scientific discourses produced a coalition between the colonizer and the colonized. Particularly, the article explores the studies of human blood types with a focus on the colonial medicine's racist implications in the Japanese Empire.

Long abstract

This article examines how techno-scientific discourses and practices produced a coalition between the colonizer and the colonized while shaping metropolitan and colonial bodies and identities. Particularly, the article explores the studies of human blood types in Japan and its colonies with a focus on the colonial medicine's racist implications in the Japanese Empire. The article explicates the trajectories of research programs in anthropological studies of blood types from the West to Japan and to the Department of Forensic Medicine at the Keijo Imperial University in Korea. It also investigates how medical science located Koreans as the colonial population within the racial hierarchy as particular kinds of "blood interpretation" became possible for colonial agencies in Imperial Japan. The article demonstrates that the science of blood type secured a strong epistemic authority; simultaneously, Keijo Imperial University emerged as a colonial academic basis while constituting its scientific authority to some extent. The expanded collaboration between the colonial state and the colonized contributed to the promotion of the ideology that Korean could be "restored" as true Japanese during the 1940s with historical, cultural, and scientific "evidence". Through tracking the strange cooperation between the colonial state and the colonized elites, this article provides sites for thinking the practices we come to know race in association with what we understand as science, power, time/temporality, and space/territory/topology.

Permanent temporality: doing race and the citizen in practices of issuing temporary ID cards in Romania

Author: Ildikó Plájás (University of Amsterdam) email
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Short abstract

This paper looks at different temporalities at stake in the practices if issuing a temporary ID card in Romania. By closely examining the materialities, technologies and notions of citizenship, I argue that 'race' and 'racial otherness' has not only spatial but also temporal configurations.

Long abstract

Whereas race is often evoked in a spatial register, for example in research about spatial segregation, in this paper I look at the temporal configurations of race. Drawing on fieldwork conducted in a local department where ID cards are issued in Romania, I attend to the materialities and technologies involved in issuing the temporary ID card called CIP. People without a proper housing, as often is the case in marginalized and segregated Roma communities, can only receive a temporary ID card, a paper-based document with a validity of maximum one year. These people are not only deprived of full citizenship (and the rights which come with it, for example travelling without passport in the European Union), but are also exposed to heightened surveillance as they have to return to the department of issuing ID cards every single year. This paper looks at the temporal dimensions of the materials and technologies involved but also the temporal notions of the 'good citizen' as it emerges from the everyday bureaucratic practice of issuing identity documents, in particular the temporary ID card. Drawing on literature on Science and Technology Studies and material semiotics of 'race' and 'racial Other' (M'charek 2013; M'charek et al. 2014), I mobilize the notion of temporality to understand how 'the Roma' is enacted in bureaucratic practices in Romania as a 'racial Other'.

Working with stereotypes in facial composite drawing

Author: Ryanne Bleumink Pallo (University of Amsterdam) email
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Short abstract

Drawing on ethnographic data from one year of fieldwork at the Dutch police, this paper attends to the enactment of race in general and the work of (stereo)types in particular, in the forensic setting of facial composite sketching.

Long abstract

Drawing on ethnographic data from one year of fieldwork at the Dutch police, this paper attends to the enactment of race in general and the work of (stereo)types in particular, in the forensic setting of facial composite sketching. While describing the face of an unknown suspect or perpetrator, witnesses are often unable to verbalize the appearance of the individual they saw. To overcome this challenge, forensic artists and witnesses not only ask questions, use reference materials or relate to known objects or subjects for explanation, but they call upon (stereo)types. These (stereo)types are used to describe overall physical appearance: such as facial shape, hairstyle, skin-color and expression, of the unknown individual. By doing so, they shift between and tinker with, the individual face and 'the' collective face, or rather, the face of 'a' composed collective. Stereotypes are usually approached with suspicion and critiqued for their reductionist mode. Rather than pointing out which (stereo)types are called upon and what these are, the focus in this paper is on what these (stereo)types, as devices, do in their situated practices. How do these devices relate to race and what else do they bring about?

The edges of vitality: race, infrastructure, and the moral boundaries of the state

Author: Norma Möllers (Queen's University) email
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Short abstract

Analyzing political discourse on cybersecurity in Germany, this paper explores how states use race to draw moral boundaries around themselves in cyberspace.

Long abstract

This paper explores how race figures in making what I call "digital territory," that is, the ways in which states use race to draw moral boundaries around themselves in cyberspace. Drawing on an analysis of political discourse on cybersecurity in Germany, I show how government officials draw on familiar colonial tropes of civilizing 'primitive' and 'uncivilized' peoples and spaces both internal and external to the nation-state. My analysis reveals a pattern which follows familiar historical geopolitical lines. Shrinking global infrastructure into a few geopolitical blocks plus the entirety of the Muslim community (what one official calls "the digital ummah"), race, gender, and sexuality serve as important organizing principles of drawing moral boundaries around who and what should be protected: the urgency of threats to German sovereignty are emphasized through gendered and racialized constructions of feminized softness, purity, openness, and vulnerability of infrastructure on the one hand, and masculinized, and racialized aggressors on the other. These discourses are far from contained: After 2015 - the height of the so-called 'migrant crisis' - German politicians begin switching effortlessly between cybersecurity, Islamic terrorism, and issues around migration. The centrality of race as biopolitical technology in territorializing cyberspace raises troubling questions about when, where, and how data traces to bodies, and how cyberspace traces to place.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.