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By Maria Elena Indelicato

In 18th and 19th sciences, the concept of race referred to a hierarchy of systematic physical and moral differences amongst group populations. In the aftermath of the abolition of slavery and the second scientific revolution in mid 19th century, the claim that populations could be ranked hierarchically was attached to the idea that differences amongst them were biologically determined. In the early and mid-20th century, the association between the two ideas was thoroughly contested by cultural anthropologists. In the wake of the Holocaust (1939-1945), cultural anthropologists’ definition of differences amongst populations as determined by social, historical, economic and cultural factors became predominant. As various scholars have pointed out, anthropologists’ confutation of the biological nature of race as a biological fact has led to equate racism with the racial sciences of 19th century, thus characterised it in Western countries as a temporary ‘aberration’ or ‘deviation’ from an otherwise democratic and progressive order. This characterisation, in turn, has concealed the systematic ways in which the purported inferiority of whole populations has been used in western nations to ‘define who may be excluded and to confine the terms of social inclusion and cohesion’ (Goldenberg, 2001).

To counter this understanding of racism, critical race studies scholars have examined race as a heuristic of differentiation that is discursively, relationally and phenomelogically determined. Authors such as David Theo Goldenberg, Stuart Hall and Alana Lentin have defined race respectively as a discursive formation, articulation, and technology by which hierarchical classifications of differences are manufactured to enforce oppression and naturalize domination. Authors such as Frantz Fanon, Sylvia Winter, Sara Ahmed, defined race as the outcome of racialization, i.e., the processes by which selected physical and/or socio-cultural traits have been invested over time with meanings and values so that they can function not so much descriptors of individual differences as markers of whole populations and their ranking vis-à-vis others. In their view, racialization takes place as much through the production of scientific and governmental ‘knowledge’ about ‘others’, as materially through everyday spatial and tactile strategies that enforce social distance. Lastly, as Ahmed further elaborated, racialization takes also place through the characterisation of others as the object of the emotions of the dominant groups.

Related References

Ahmed, Sara. 2002. “Racialized Bodies.” In Real Bodies: A Sociological Introduction, edited by Mary Evans and Ellie Lee, 46–63. London: Macmillan Education UK.
2014. The Cultural Politics of Emotion. 2nd edition. London: Routledge.
Boas, Frantz. 1911. The Mind of Primitive Man: A Course of Lectures Delivered Before the Lowell Institute, Boston, Mass., and the National University of Mexico, 1910-1911. New York: Macmillan.
Fanon, Frantz. 1967. Black Skin, White Mask. New York: Grove Press.
Goldenberg, David Theo. 2001. The Racial State. Malden: Wiley-Blackwell.
Hall, Stuart. 2017. The Fateful Triangle. Race, Ethnicity, Nation. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.
Lentin, Alana. 2008. “Europe and the Silence about Race.” European Journal of Social Theory 11 (4): 487–503.
n.d. Why Race Still Matters. Polity.
McKittrick, Katherine, ed. 2015. Sylvia Wynter: On Being Human as Praxis. Duke University Press.
Stepan, Nancy. 1982. The Idea of Race in Science: Great Britain 1800–1960. London: Palgrave MacMillan.
UNESCO. 1978. “Declaration on Race and Racial Prejudice.”

Cite this entry as:

Indelicato, Maria Elena. 2022. ‘Race’. In Populisms and Emotions Glossary, edited by Cristiano Gianolla and Maíra Magalhães Lopes. Available atário