The Origins and Demise of the Concept of Race

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Abstract

Physical and cultural diversity have been salient features of human societies throughout history, but “race” as a scientific concept to account for human diversity is a modern phenomenon created in nineteenth-century Europe as Darwinian thought was (mis)applied to account for differences in human societies. Although modern science has discredited race as a meaningful biological concept, race has remained as an important social category because of historical patterns of interpersonal and institutional discrimination. However, the impossibility of consistent and reliable reporting of race, either as an identity or as an observed trait, means that the notion of race as a set of mutually exclusive categories is no longer tenable. As a social science term, race is being gradually abandoned. Physical differences in appearance among people remain a salient marker in everyday life, but this reality can be better framed within the concept of ethnicity.

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