Mexican Genomics and the Roots of Racial Thinking

Abstract

This article confronts the cultural limitation of critical race work in the United States by examining genomic practices at two national institutes in Mexico—one focused on people and aimed at sampling “the Mexican genome,” the other focused on plant biodiversity and “razas de maíz” or races of corn. The human genome project emphasizes admixture in ways that seem to confound claims about the racialization of genomics research in the United States; the biodiversity project highlights the broad extent to which “race” is also about nonhumans. Taken together, these projects suggest a greater breadth and depth to racial thinking than is typically considered in U.S.-based accounts. Grasping this wider scope to race involves, first, foregoing a strict delineation of the social and the biological and, secondly, recognizing that uses of race on nonhumans indicate that racial thinking entails profound questions concerning the nature of species. “Razas de maíz” suggest that racial thinking is both older and more deeply engrained than the modern forms with which we have been most concerned; it may well derive from processes of domestication that are quite ancient and encompass a range of contradictory, complex ideas and practices concerning the relations of humans and nonhumans.

Keywords: genomics, race, Mexico, anthropology of science

About the Author

John Hartigan is a professor in the Department of Anthropology and Director of the Américo Paredes Center for Cultural Studies at the University of Texas, Austin. He is the author of Racial Situations: Class Predicaments of Whiteness in Detroit (Princeton, 1999), Odd Tribes: White Trash, Whiteness and the Uses of Cultural Analysis (Duke, 2005), What Can You Say? America’s National Conversation on Race (Stanford 2010), and Race in the 21st Century: Ethnographic Approaches (Oxford 2010). He recently edited Anthropology of Race: Genes, Biology, and Culture, based on a seminar he chaired "Rethinking Race and Science: Biology, Genes, and Culture" at the School of Advanced Research in Santa Fe, New Mexico. He expanded this field research in Mexico to additionally focus on botanical gardens in Spain. This project will be the subject of his forthcoming book, Care of the Species: Cultivating Biodiversity in Mexico and Spain (Minnesota, 2015). His blog, Aesop’s Anthropology, reflects on multispecies dynamics broadly.

**Download the "Introduction" to Anthropology of Race: Genes, Biology, and Culture**

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John Hartigan, "Anthropology of Race: Genes, Biology, and Culture." September 12, 2013 via School for Advanced Research.

Related Media

Biodiversidad Mexicana


Razas de Maíz

El maestro Hernández Xolocotzi, uno de los principales colectores de maíz en México y que ayudó a identificar algunas de las 320 razas de maíz existentes en América, habla de los largos procesos de observación y adaptación que desembocaron en este tesoro vegetal.

Images from LANGEBIO

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John Hartigan, "Laboratory "milpa"." September 12, 2013.

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John Hartigan, "The razas are in the seeds." September 12, 2013.

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John Hartigan, "Workbench races." September 12, 2013.

Comments

Posted By diane wilkinson

Grasping this wider scope to race involves, first, foregoing a strict delineation of the social and the biological and, secondly, recognizing that uses of race on nonhumans indicate that racial thinking entails profound questions concerning the nature of species. http://www.redriverfurnace.com

Posted By John Hartigan

Yes, I heartily agree, race is about the nature of species. As I work through this material, considering the role of racial thinking in shaping our understanding of species--not just the way we find them 'good to think with', but actually manipulate and reconfigure them--I'm struck by the resonance between two questions: "do races exist?" and "do species exist?"

Posted By Silke Vehlow

I think the reason why African Americans suffer more from heart disease in the USA than Africans in Africa is pretty clearly not a sociological reason but simply the unhealthy food in the US. Probably most Europeans with African origins also suffer less from heart attacks. Other than that I found the podcast very interesting even though I do not believe in race.

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