Introducing Sociology 496 (special topics course): Social Studies of Race in Science

Sociology 496 (special topics course): SOCIAL STUDIES OF RACE IN SCIENCE
Spring 2018
Professor Joan Fujimura
7101 Social Sciences Building

This class is for undergraduates with at least junior standing and for graduate students. Students do not need a science background to succeed in this course.  For science students, this class will provide a sociological perspective on the life sciences.  Consent of instructor is NOT needed.  (We are in the process of turning this course into a permanent course.)

This class uses sociological theories and methods to examine historical and contemporary studies of race and science.  Some of the current issues include:  (1) The recent claim by two sociologists, some geneticists, and a journalist that recent biomedical sciences new genomic research demonstrates that races are biological categories.  (2) The efforts by some pharmaceutical companies to sell products they claim are effective only for some racial groups and not for others.  (3) The claim by DNA ancestry companies that they can specify the historical (qua “geographic”) roots of any individual based on their DNA.  These claims and efforts are generating complex consequences that touch many topics of concern to social scientists, biomedical researchers and physicians, policy makers, and the public.

This class will examine efforts to use new genomics research to raise (again) the specter of races as biological categories.  We will examine flaws in this argument. We will compare these claims with social studies of race.  We will read contemporary socio-cultural studies that show how racial and ethnic classification practices and categories differ by country and locale.  We will read recent socio-cultural, political, and ethical literature that demonstrate what the new genomics says and does not say about race, ancestry, and medicine. We will discuss and debate the terms “populations,” “races,” and “geographic groups.”

We will also contextualize the current scene by reading past histories of the intersection of race and science.  We will read about how biologists and social scientists viewed race during different historical moments and how those views have changed. The historical studies examine the ways race and racism have been created, justified, or contested in scientific practice and discourse.