Defining Race and Defining Races: Culture, Biology and Group Difference

Ann Morning, Princeton University

A striking feature of American demography today is the prevalence of racial categorization combined with the scarcity of clear definitions of what race is or how racial membership can accurately be ascertained. Yet demographers should be attentive to assumptions concerning the nature of racial difference and their evolution, as the history of American racial classification practices offers ample evidence of the ways in which changing conceptualizations of race have shaped official and academic attempts to measure racial affiliation. This paper draws on interview data with over 90 social and biological scientists as well as undergraduate students in these fields to trace contemporary academic and lay definitions of race, and to outline the potential impact of current race thinking on future racial classification practices.

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Presented in Session 11: Racial Definitions, Racial Identity, and Racial Reporting