An interview with the American sociologist Ann Morning

décembre 1st, 2012

By: Rachid Filali

-Professor Ann Morning:

   Your book “The Nature of Race” reveal a startling fact, the scientists involved, intentionally or unintentionally, in support of extremist political trends, is not it?

What is perceived as « extremist » depends entirely on the social and political context.  In the United States today, it is hardly considered an extreme position to argue that the human species is divided into a small number of biologically-distinct races.  Even the belief that such races can be arrayed along a hierarchy of inferior and superior races is probably not an « extreme » position in the United States, given our long history of precisely such beliefs (and political institutions based on them), and the extent to which racial prejudices are still alive today.

-Did you know you before that the concept of “race” a cultural invention, not a biological fact?

The idea that race was a social invention or “construct” rather than a biological phenomenon was one that I was probably first exposed to as a doctoral student.  My exposure to this argument was what motivated me to write my book.

-The field of anthropology and ethnology, history, and even linguistics “poisoned” by the use of concepts that include the intentions of the suspect, such as the concept of “race” and “primitive” and other concepts, is it reasonable to wait for decades and possibly centuries to discover such facts distorted?

I don’t think we will have to wait for decades; scholars are already pointing out the myriad ways in which these academic disciplines and others—like biology and psychology—have been shaped by particular ideas of race and culture.  But it’s not surprising that it’s taken so long for scholars to recognize this about their fields; it took major political and social events like World War II and the Holocaust, as well as the U.S. civil rights movement, to shake academics up and push them to reconsider their assumptions about human differences.
-The book “The Nature of Race” has not been translated yet - according to my knowledge - to the Arabic language and many other languages​​, it means that the use of the concept of “race” is still circulating in the scientific literature and as well as pedagogical, and it is supposed to organize scientific meetings to present this issue .

I would love for my book to be translated into Arabic, and to spark a cross-national conversation about the ways that ideas of “racial” difference appear in different social contexts.  Currently, I’m conducting research in Italy because I’d like to understand how western Europeans in a nation with a great deal of immigrants think about the differences between themselves and the newcomers.

- There are a lot of scientific myths that should be seriously reviewed, especially those that are relevant to humans, are there other attempts is currently Professor Anne studied in this regard?

I know many scholars who are interested in the beliefs about race, or gender, or sexuality that circulate and that are influenced by scientific discourse.

- The genetic study recently published in the “American Journal of Human Genetics” revealed that the origin of humans from the Arabian Peninsula, is this a new myth or scientific fact confirmed?

This is a fascinating study.  To be clear, though, it doesn’t claim that all human beings originated in the Arabian Peninsula, but rather, that the first group of Africans to leave Africa went in a northeastern direction, from the Horn of Africa to Yemen and elsewhere on the Arabian Peninsula, rather than in a northwestern direction to Egypt and the Levant.  As a scholar who is now based in the United Arab Emirates, I find this a pretty exciting theory!  But I understand it is a new argument that is in the process of being debated, and has not yet been widely confirmed and embraced.

- What are the most important social studies, which “revealed” recently, too - according to your opinion - more pseudo-concepts, like your book “The Nature of Race” wonderful and very successful?

There are many, but I will mention just a few:

Hannaford, Ivan. 1996. Race: The History of an Idea in the West. Washington, DC: The Woodrow Wilson Center Press.  A wonderful history of the evolution of racial thinking in the west.

Fredrickson, George M. 2002. Racism: A Short History. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.  A very readable book by an eminent historian, it traces the history of the western “race” concept to medieval Spain’s treatment of its Muslim- and Jewish-descent populations.

Hall, Bruce S. 2011. A History of Race in Muslim West Africa, 1600-1960. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.  This thought-provoking book focuses on North and West Africa to argue that the concept of race has been invented in other times and places beyond Western Europe.

Schiebinger, Londa. 1993. Nature’s Body: Gender in the Making of Modern Science. Boston MA: Beacon Press.  This fascinating book explores how the social and political prejudices of European scientists in the age of the Enlightenment had a deep impact on the field of human biology.


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