From Types to Populations: A Century of Race, Physical Anthropology, and the American Anthropological Association

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Abstract

In the 1960s, U.S. physical anthropology underwent a period of introspection that marked a change from the old physical anthropology that was largely race based to the new physical anthropology, espoused by Washburn and others for over a decade, which incorporated the evolutionary biology of the modern synthesis. What actually changed? What elements of the race concept have been rejected, and what elements have persisted, influencing physical anthropology today? In this article, I examine both the scientific and social influences on physical anthropology that caused changes in the race concept, in particular the influence of the American Anthropological Association. The race concept is complicated but entails three attributes: essentialism, cladistic thinking, and biological determinism. These attributes have not all been discarded; while biological determinism and its social implications have been questioned since the inception of the field, essentialism and the concomitant rendering of populations as clades persists as a legacy of the race concept. [Keywords: race, essentialism, physical anthropology]

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