Race as a Physiosocial Phenomenon

History and Philosophy of the Life Sciences 33 (2):191-222 (2011)
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This paper offers both a criticism of and a novel alternative perspective on current ontologies that take race to be something that is either static and wholly evident at one’s birth or preformed prior to it. In it I survey and critically assess six of the most popular conceptions of race, concluding with an outline of my own suggestion for an alternative account. I suggest that race can be best understood in terms of one’s experience of his or her body, one’s interactions with other individuals, and one’s experiences within particular cultures and societies. This embeddedness of human experience has been left out of most discussions of race which tie race to a set of characteristics (either biologically or sociologically defined). To rectify this omission, I articulate what I call the “physiosocial” view of race. This emphasizes the situatedness of human experience, the reciprocal and dynamic nature of the racial identities of individuals and groups. Approaching racial identity in this way entails a union of two historically uncomfortable partners: biological and sociological conceptions of race. If successful, this philosophical stance may illuminate the process of racial self-ascription as well as provide an explanation for the potential changeability of an individual’s racial identity at different times and at different places.

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Catherine Elizabeth Kendig
Michigan State University


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