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27-31 August 2019
Poznań, Poland
Europe/Warsaw timezone
programme last update: 23 August 2019
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Contribution Paper

Poznań, Poland - Morasko Kampus, room: 2.103

Missing the forest for the trees: Race, ancestry and identity.


  • Dr. Rachel CASPARI

Primary authors


The western race concept is a colonial construction of human variation that continues to inform our understanding of human biology and evolution and our understandings of ancestry. Throughout the scientific history of human biology and evolution, social constructions of race played a role in how human variation was interpreted and, conversely, the science of human biology was used to sociopolitical ends. Gradually, a general consensus emerged in US anthropology, reflected in a special issue of the American Journal of Physical Anthropology (Edgar and Hunley 2009), that human “races” do not exist in part because the apportionment of diversity of living humans is not patterned in ways consistent with the concept of race. Yet, in 2019 race is once again both politically important and a topic of controversy in human evolutionary studies. Evidence for this includes the recent publication of books and articles promoting arguments for the existence of biological races, buttressed with genetic data. Moreover, scientific studies are again being used to support racist ideologies. This paper examines this trend, focusing on the effects of racial thinking on both scientific and social constructions of ancestry and identity. I conclude that while assertions for the existence of biological races are highly flawed, the race concept remains a powerful influence in science and society that obscures understanding of human variation and continues to biologize social inequality. Edgar, H. J. H. and K. L. Hunley. 2009. Race Reconciled? How Biological Anthropologists View Human Variation. American Journal of Physical Anthropology 139:1-4.