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FRIAS Colloquium - Jenny Reardon

Jenny Reardon

Sociology and History of Science and Technology
University of California, Santa Cruz

Towards A Genealogy of Scientific Anti-Racisms
When May 27, 2024
from 03:00 PM to 04:00 PM
Where FRIAS Seminar Room
Contact Name
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Towards A Genealogy of Scientific Anti-Racisms

While the idea of ‘race’ in science and discourses of scientific racism have received considerable scholarly attention, there is almost no critical literature on the notion of scientific anti-racism. This silence has created a gap in understandings of the re-constitution of epistemic and social orders following WWII.  As this talk demonstrates, the ability of scientists—natural and social—to establish their work as ‘anti-racist’ became a central concern in the early 20th century, particularly in the wake of the rise of the National Socialist regime in Germany.  Indeed, after WWII, the ability to claim the mantle of ‘anti-racist’ became central to the ability to credibly know and govern.  Nowhere is this more evident than in the creation of the United Nations (UN), and its specialized agency, the United Nations Educational, Cultural and Scientific Organization (UNESCO).  In 1948, as part of the drafting of the UN Declaration of Universal Human Rights, the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) asked UNESCO to collect and disseminate “scientific facts designed to remove racial prejudice.”  The resulting 1950 and 1951 UNESCO Statements on Race became paradigmatic reference points for what many then and today herald as the anti-racist claim that race has no meaningful basis in biology. This talk offers a re-reading of these UNESCO Statements from within a critical genealogical frame (Foucault 1977),  bringing to light their bitterly fought construction. In so doing, it unearths the contested fields of knowledge, ethics and politics that unsettled ECOSOC’s efforts to ground a liberal, internationalist order in “scientific facts” intended to root out racism. The talks ends by asking what critical insights might be gained by a genealogical approach to scientific anti-racisms in a moment partially defined by renewed liberal attempts to mobilize science and scientific facts as agents of anti-racism and democracy.