Darwin sought to not only to produce a new scientific truth, but also to put an end to polygenism, the current scientific discourse on human origins that gave tacit and at times explicit support for slavery: ‘... when the principle of evolution is generally accepted, as it surely will be before long, the dispute between the monogenists and polygenists will die a silent and unobserved death.’ (Charles Darwin, Descent of Man, p. 235)

Monday, August 25, 2014

SS.490 Darwin, Marx, Nietzsche, Freud (Fall 2014 syllabus)

The Fall 2014 syllabus for SS.490 Darwin, Marx, Nietzsche, Freud. The official version is available on the LMS and will be posted on this blog as well during the course of the semester.  Posts on twitter will carry the hashtag #DMNF2014

Darwin, Marx, Nietzsche, Freud
School of Liberal Arts & Sciences Department of Social Science & Cultural Studies
Course number/section: SS.290
Credits: 3
Day & Time: Tuesday, 2:00pm – 4:50pm
Meeting Place: North Hall 114

B. Ricardo Brown, Ph. D.
Professor of Social Science and Cultural Studies

Office Location: Dekalb 419
Office Hours: Tuesday 12:30 -1:50pm
Office Phone number: 1.718.636.3600 ext. 2709
Appropriate times to call: 12:30-1:50pm or by appointment
Email: BBRow993@pratt.du
URL: http://node801.org
Course blog: http://until-darwin.blogspot.com/
Twitter: https://twitter.com/UntilDarwin/

Bulletin description
In this course we will examine our concepts of society, power, value, and desire through reading selected works by Karl Marx, Charles Darwin, Friedrich Nietzsche, and Sigmund Freud. The goal is to understand their ideas and the social context that shaped them through a close examination of their works not to attempt to prove or disprove their many arguments. The emphasis of the course will be on engaging the original texts and attention will be paid to how each writer went about their critiques as well as the revolutionary consequences that followed --- including those that were antithetical to their own views and work.

Detailed description
Darwin, Marx, Nietzsche, Freud: The Sciences of Life and Society
In this course we will examine our concepts of society, power, value, and desire through reading selected works by Karl Marx, Charles Darwin, Friedrich Nietzsche, and Sigmund Freud. The goal is not to attempt to prove or disprove their many arguments, but to understand those views and the social context that shaped them through a close examination of their works. Special emphasis will be on reading the original texts and attention will be paid to how they went about their critiques as well as the revolutionary consequences that followed --- including those that were often antithetical to their own views and work.

In this course we will examine the knowledge of social life and its relation to our concepts of society, power, value, and desire through reading selected works of Marx, Darwin, Nietzsche, and Freud. You might begin thinking about the course in this way: Darwin placed us in the natural world and showed that we share a common genealogical origin in nature. Marx shows us how we have changed that nature and at the same time changed ourselves. Nietzsche raised the problem of what those changes have cost us: what have we had to give up in order to have society? Finally, Freud sought to understand how we might deal the consequences of civilization/culture (he used the German kulture, which can as in the English,mean either culture or civilization).
The overarching is for you to begin to understand these ideas and the social context that shaped them. So what is important is how they went about their critiques and the revolutionary consequences that followed --- including those that were antithetical to their own views and work, e.g., eugenics, Nazism, the gulags, etc., but which are nonetheless often invoked their names.

It is important to keep in mind that this course is only a single semester and so it can only serve as an introduction to some aspects of what are extensive and varied bodies of work. Many students do not have the opportunity to read any of these authors except for brief excerpts or secondary accounts. So the primary purpose here is to allow you to begin an engagement that, for the fortunate, lasts a lifetime.

So, we will examine the production of nature, society, power, and desire through the works of Marx, Darwin, Nietzsche, and Freud. And we examine them not because they are canonical “great works” but because they mark how works become canonical; not because we are concerned with “Great Men” or “Great Figures In Thought” but because these authors/works mark changes in knowledge and the limits to truth in their time by raising fundamental problems that the sciences of life and society seek to address address. The readings for this course will cover both their well known as well as more obscure, but often more important, works of social critique.

Themes, motifs, etc., to note during your readings in this course:

I. Continuities and discontinuities between the concepts, problems, and analyses. How does the author drw connections between concepts ddrawn from different fields of knowledge?

II. Interests and experiences that connect the authors, e.g., education, illness, exile or voyage, etc.

III. The social relations that connect the works, including:

Slavery, race, and the slave trade
Society and the social relations of capital
Nature and “the environment”
Bourgeois morality
Degeneration, criminality and madness

IV. Whether the author argues that interpretation is open and can change, or argues tha the past is more or less fixed in its meanings, i.e., if the believe that “the facts speak for themselves”.

V. The place of materialism, chance, and contingency in these works. Rejection of idealism in favor of scientific rationality and Enlightened experience.

VI. An emphasis on either (or both) individual experience and history.

VII. How these works reject a narrow or specialized intellectualism and cut across the established disciplines of their time.

VIII. As you read your texts, pause to think about how these works transformed knowledge and create the basis for the disciplines, specialties, and social policies of the present, i.e., their transvaluations of the values of their time and their concern for “Life” and “Society”.

Course Goals

This course will:

A. introduce and familiarize students with some of the key works of Darwin, Marx, Nietzsche, and Freud.

B. give students the opportunity to directly engage some of the primary texts of sociology, biology, psychology, and philosophy.

C. allow students to interpret the social and intellectual contexts of these works and to use these works as material objects for understanding the social and intellectual currents of the 19th and 20th centuries.

D. deepen students understanding of the continuities and discontinuities of the sciences of life and society.

E. present students with a range of modes of argumentation and presentation, from Darwin’s “one long argument” of the Origin of Species to Nietzsche’s aphorisms.

F. provide students with a foundation for study in the social sciences and the liberal arts.

Student Learning Outcomes

At the end of this semester, students will:

A. demonstrate a knowledge of the range of work undertaken by Darwin, Marx, Nietzsche, and Freud.

B. understand the sources of some of our most fundamental social and political questions.

C. position themselves in relation to contemporary disputes, e. g., evolution.

D. identify key concepts in the social sciences.

E. demonstrate an ability to analyze and interpret primary texts in the genealogy of sociology, psychology, philosophy, and biology.

The Course of Study

Week I. Introduction to the Course
This week you have a series of short autobiographical sketches, interviews, and memoirs which provide an introduction to the authors we will be reading and discussing. These readings will provide you with some useful biographical insights as well as an impression of how our four authors were seen by themselves and their contemporaries.

Darwin. 1860. Preface and postscript from Journal of researches into the natural history and geology of the countries visited during the voyage of H.M.S. Beagle round the world, under the command of Capt. Fitz Roy R.N. London: John Murray. Tenth thousand. Final text.
Pages v-viii.

Francis Darwin. 1887. “Reminiscences of My Father’s Everyday Life” from The life and letters of Charles Darwin, including an autobiographical chapter. London: John Murray. Volume 1.
John van Wyhe, editor. 2002-. The Complete Work of Charles Darwin Online. (http://darwin-online.org.uk/)

Marx. Letter to Ruge, Kreuznach, September 1843.

Marx. Two Interviews:
Interview by John Swinton, The Sun, no. 6, 6 September 1880.
Interview with Karl Marx, by H., Chicago Tribune, January 5 1879.

Sir Mountstuart Elphinstone Grant Duff. A Private Letter to British Crown Princess Victoria About Meeting Karl Marx, February 1, 1879.

Eleanor Marx, “Biographical Comments on Karl Marx by his daughter.”

Frederick Engels. Speech at the Grave of Karl Marx, Highgate Cemetery, London. March 17, 1883.

Nietzsche, “How One Becomes What One Is” from Ecce Homo.

Freud BBC address (the only sound recording of Freud’s voice)

Freud, three Prefaces to the Interpretation of Dreams.

Week II. Darwin, The Origin of Species I
As you read this weeks texts, notice how Darwin introduces the question of the origins of species and how he presents his book as essentially one long argument.

The Origin of Species, 1st edition: Origin of Species, Introduction
Complete Works of Darwin Online: http://darwin-online.org.uk/pdf/1859_Origin_F373.pdf
pp. 1-6.
Origin of Species, Chapter II, “Variation under Nature”
Complete Works of Darwin Online: http://darwin-online.org.uk/pdf/1859_Origin_F373.pdf
pp. 44-59.

Origin of Species, “An Historical Sketch of the Progress of Opinion on the Origin of Species Previously to the Publication of the First Edition of this Work” pages 53-64 of The Origin of Species (3rd edition), also available in Appleman, pp. 87-94.
Complete Works of Darwin Online: http://darwin-online.org.uk/pdf/1861_Origin_F381.pdf pp. xiii-xix

Week III. Darwin, The Origin of Species II
Darwin presents Nature as dynamic and constantly changing. This week he presents one of the fundamental concepts of Darwinism and tries to anticipate the objections to his theory, especially the most difficult one: the problem of instincts.

Origin of Species, Chapter III, “Struggle for Existence”
Complete Works of Darwin Online: http://darwin-online.org.uk/pdf/1859_Origin_F373.pdf
pp. 60-79.
Origin of Species, Chapter IV, “Natural Selection”
Complete Works of Darwin Online: http://darwin-online.org.uk/pdf/1859_Origin_F373.pdf
pp. 80-130.
Origin of Species, Chapter VI, “Difficulties of the Theory”
Complete Works of Darwin Online: http://darwin-online.org.uk/pdf/1859_Origin_F373.pdf
pp. 171-206.
Origin of Species, Chapter VII, “Instinct”
Complete Works of Darwin Online: http://darwin-online.org.uk/pdf/1859_Origin_F373.pdf
pp. 207-244.

Week IV. Darwin, The Descent of Man I
Ten years after the publication of the Origin of Species, Darwin explicitly addresses the application of the theory to the origins of humans and the meaning of human variety. He introduces an important addendum to Natural Selection in animals: Sexual Selection. Note that it is the female of the species who determines the course of selection now.

Origin of Species, Chapter XIV, “Recapitulation and Conclusion”
Complete Works of Darwin Online: http://darwin-online.org.uk/pdf/1859_Origin_F373.pdf
pp. 459-490.
Descent of Man, Introduction and Chapter I, “Evidence of the Descent of Man from Some Lower Form” Complete Works of Darwin Online: http://darwin-online.org.uk/pdf/1874_Descent_F944.pdf
pp. 1-25.

Week V. Darwin, The Descent of Man II
Descent of Man, Chapter VI, “On the Affinities and Genealogy of Man”
Complete Works of Darwin Online: http://darwin-online.org.uk/pdf/1874_Descent_F944.pdf
pp. 146-165.
Descent of Man, Chapter VII, “On the Races of Man”
Complete Works of Darwin Online: http://darwin-online.org.uk/pdf/1874_Descent_F944.pdf
pp. 166-206.

SUGGESTED READING: Chapter V. On the Development of the Intellectual and Moral Faculties during Primeval and Civilized Times, pp. 131-150; Complete Works of Darwin Online: http://darwin-online.org.uk/pdf/1874_Descent_F944.pdf

Week VI. Darwin, The Descent of Man II
Descent of Man, Chapter VIII, “Principles of Sexual Selection”
Complete Works of Darwin Online: http://darwin-online.org.uk/pdf/1874_Descent_F944.pdf
pp. 207-259.
Descent of Man, Chapters XVII – XX, “Secondary Sexual Characteristics of Man”
Complete Works of Darwin Online: http://darwin-online.org.uk/pdf/1874_Descent_F944.pdf
pp. 556-605.
Descent of Man, Chapter XXI. “General Note and Conclusion”
Complete Works of Darwin Online: http://darwin-online.org.uk/pdf/1874_Descent_F944.pdf
pp. 606-619.

Week VII. Marx, The Holy Family, or Critique of Critical Criticism
by Karl Marx and Frederick Engels. The complete text is located at Marx & Engels Collected Works (MECW), Vol.IV: http://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/cw/volume04/index.htm

This is not the first work by Marx, but it is the first one “co-authored” with Engels. Perhaps indicative of their relationship as writers, Engels writes only the first few sections, and Marx writes maybe 90% of the text on his own. More than that, peruse the work so that you might see that it is actually a work of literary criticism. Marx is critiquing Eugene Sue’s Mysteries of Paris and the reviews/critiques of Sue written by his former comrades in the revolutionary Neo-Hegelian League of the Just.

Holy Family, Chapter IV, “Love”, pp. 27-30 [pp. 20-23]
MECW online: http://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1845/holy-family/ch04.htm#4.3
Holy Family, Chapter V, “‛Critical Criticism’ as a Mystery-Monger”, pp. 69-97 [pp. 55-77]
MECW online: http://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1845/holy-family/ch05.htm
Holy Family, Chapter IX, “The Critical Last Judgement”, pp. 260-261[pp. 210-211]
MECW online: http://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1845/holy-family/ch09.htm

Holy Family, Chapter VIII, “The Earthly Course and Transfiguration of ‛Critical Criticism’”, pp. 201-259 [pp. 162-209]
MECW online: http://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1845/holy-family/ch08.htm


Week VIII. Marx, Grundrisse and Capital
The Grundrisse is fundamental to understanding Marx’s project as he moved from his early works to the writing of Capital. I would like your to pay attention two aspects of this texts. The first is how Marx constructs his argument. This is important because the Grundrisse is seen in two somewhat contradictory ways: as either an abandoned work or as the “rough draft” of Capital. The second is the final section where Marx lists the topics “not to be forgotten” in his future work.... and the importance of both Greek art and Shakespeare in his thought at that time.

Grundrisse, Marx’s Analytical contents list, pp. 69-80
Marx-Engels Archive: http://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1857/grundrisse/
Grundrisse, "Introduction" also known as "Manuscript M", pages 81-114
Marx-Engels Archive: http://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1857/grundrisse/ch01.htm

Grundrisse, “Original Accumulation of Capital”, pp 459-471
Marx-Engels Archive: http://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1857/grundrisse/ch09.htm#p459
Grundrisse, “Forms which precede Capitalist Production”, pp. 471-513
Marx-Engels Archive: http://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1857/grundrisse/ch09.htm#p471
Week IX. Marx, Grundrisse and Capital I and III

Capital, Volume III, Chapter 52, “Classes”, pp. 1025-1026
Marx-Engels Archive: http://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1894-c3/ch52.htm
Grundrisse, “The concept of the free labourer contains the pauper. Population and overpopulation etc.” pp. 604- 608. Marx-Engels Archive: http://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1857/grundrisse/ch12.htm#p604
Grundrisse, “Competition”, pp. 649-652
Marx-Engels Archive: http://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1857/grundrisse/ch12.htm#p649
Capital, Volume I, Chapter 13, “Cooperation”, pp. 439-454
Marx-Engels Archive: http://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1867-c1/ch13.htm

Grundrisse, “Value of labour”, pp. 281-289
Marx-Engels Archive: http://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1857/grundrisse/ch05.htm#p281
Grundrisse, “(Labour power as capital!), pp. 293-294
Marx-Engels Archive: http://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1857/grundrisse/ch06.htm

Week X. Marx, Grundrisse and Capital

Capital, Volume I, Chapter I, “The Fetishism of Commodities and the Secret thereof”, pp. 163-177
Marx-Engels Archive: http://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1867-c1/ch01.htm#S4
Capital, Volume I, Chapter 31, “The Genesis of the Industrial Capitalist”, pp. 914-926
Marx-Engels Archive: http://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1867-c1/ch31.htm
Capital, Volume I, Chapter 32, “The Historical Tendency of Capitalist Accumulation”, pp. 927-930
Marx-Engels Archive: http://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1867-c1/ch32.htm
Capital, Volume I, Chapter 33, “The Modern Theory of Colonization”, pp. 931-947
Marx-Engels Archive: http://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1867-c1/ch33.htm

Week XI. Nietzsche, Good and Bad
You will recall that in the Holy Family, Marx addresses issues of morality and social life through a critique of Sue’s novel and the Young Hegelians (a.k.a.“The League of the Just”). Nietzsche undertakes a revolutionary critique of morality in the wake of Darwin and Marx. Notice his use of “genealogy” and recall that Darwin’s argument was also from a “genealogical perspective, as was Marx’s tracing of the commodity fetish.

Beyond Good and Evil "The Natural History of Morals", pp. 95-118
Collected Works online:
"Beyond Good and Evil" from Ecce Homo, pp. 310-312.


Week XII. Nietzsche, Morality
The Genealogy of Morals, Essay II, “Guilt, Bad Conscience, and the Like" pp. 57-96
Collected Works online: http://www.davemckay.co.uk/philosophy/nietzsche/nietzsche.php?name=1887.on.the.genealogy.of.morals.johnston.01
The Genealogy of Morals” from Ecce Homo, pp. 312-314

Finally, Now that we have found ourselves a part of a vast natural world, a species with the capacity to make our own history, and one that has made that history in ways that it often refuses to acknowledge, we come to Freud, who confronts the legacy of these intellectual and psychological upheavals, but just as important, the social catastrophes of the first half of the 20th century.

Week XIII. Freud, Science and Religion in the Wake and Shadow of Catastrophe
The Future of an Illusion


Week XIV. Freud
The Future of an Illusion

Week XV. Freud, Society as a Negative Dialectic
Civilization and its Discontents

Week XV. Final general discussion
Civilization and its Discontents


Required Readings
The readings for the class will be drawn from the following sources. The primary texts that you will want to purchase for this course are below. Some are available online, and where possible that has been indicated in the syllabus, however, make certain that your translation or edition is the same as that listed here, as they are the specific edition that we will be using for class discussions.

Karl Marx
Grundrisse: Foundations of the Critique of Political Economy (Rough Draft). New York: Penguin Books, 1973. ISBN: 0140445757
Capital, vol. I. New York: Penguin Books, 1973. ISBN: 0140445684

Friedrich Nietzsche
Beyond Good and Evil: Prelude to a Philosophy of the Future. Translated with Commentary by Walter Kaufmann. New York: Vintage, 1966. ISBN: 0394703375
On the Genealogy of Morals and Ecce Homo. Translated with Commentary by Walter Kaufmann. New York: Vintage, 1969. ISBN: 0679724621

Sigmund Freud
The Future of an Illusion. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1961. ISBN: 0393008312
Civilization and its Discontents. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1961. ISBN: 0393301583
New Introductory Lectures in Psychoanalysis. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1965. ISBN 039300743

Charles Darwin
The Origins of Species (1st [1859] edition). A common and inexpensive one is ISBN: 0517123207 and contains the “Brief Historical Sketch” from later editions.
The Descent of Man. New York: Modern Library, 1995. ISBN: 1573921769

Suggested Texts:
Sigmund Freud. Group Psychology and the Analysis of the Ego. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1961. ISBN: 0393007707
Friedrich Nietzsche. The Portable Nietzsche. Translated with Commentary by Walter Kaufmann. New York: Vintage. ISBN: 0140150625
Friedrich Nietzsche. The Gay Science: with a Prelude in Rhymes and an Appendix of Songs, Translated with Commentary by Walter Kaufmann, New York: Vintage, 1974.
Charles Darwin, Appleman, Philip, ed. 1979. Darwin: A Norton Critical Edition. New York: W.W. Norton, 3rd edition. ISBN: 0393958493
Karl Marx. Early Writings. New York: Penguin Books, 1992.
Karl Marx. The Holy Family or Critique of Critical Criticism (with Frederick Engels). New York: Progress Publishers, 1980 [1956]. ISBN:There are several editions, but only the one complete 1956 translation by Dixon and Dutt. As it is becoming increasingly rare, except for a new and expensive edition, we may only use those portions available from the Marxist Archive.

The reading for the class will be drawn from these and other sources. Given the number of bookstores available either on-line or here in the city --- as well as having the New York Public Library at your disposal---- you are responsible for obtaining the required texts. This is not to place a burden upon you, but it is a necessary part of education that you learn how to acquire books and materials for yourself. These are some additional sources for the texts:
The Strand http://www.strandbooks.com (at 12th street).
St. Marks Bookstop http://www.stmarksbookshop.com (moving soon to new NYC location)
Book Culture http://bookculture.com
Advanced Book Exchange http://abebooks.com
Powells http://powells.com
Barnes and Nobles http://www.bn.com
Amazon http://www.amazon.com

Course Requirements

Short Reading Responses:
Four short reading responses are required. One for each author. The due dates are indicated in the course schedule. These responses are 5 or should you choose, more pages (about 1200-1500 words). Each response will consist of the following:

  1. Discussion of the author’s mode of argumentation. Does it vary between texts or is it consistent? How would you characterize the way in which the author argues? Who do you think is the audience for the text?
  2. A general outline of the arguments and a brief discussion of the important concepts that you found in the readings. Discuss any aspects of the texts that might have changed your way of thinking about the author/works.
  3. What you see as the relation between this author/texts and those of the others we are reading this semester?

Remember, keep in mind as you read:
  1. The author’s style of arguing and how he constructs his argument.
  1. How he describes and defends key elements of his theory.
  1. How, if called upon, you might characterize his style of argument and writing?

At the end of the course you may submit a 1-2 page essay describing your evaluation of your performance and your assessment of what you believe to be a fair final grade.

Absences and Lateness
Persistent absences or lateness (or habitually sleeping, or performing work for other courses) will result in a reduction of your final grade.

Short essays: 80%
Participation (e.g., asking questions, discussing readings in class, etc.): 10%
Self-Evaluation: 10%

Thursday, July 10, 2014

BOOK REVIEW Wailoo, Keith, Alondra Nelson, and Catherine Lee, eds. Genetics and the Unsettled Past: The Collision of DNA, Race, and History.

Wailoo, Keith, Alondra Nelson, and Catherine Lee, eds. 2012. Genetics and the Unsettled Past: The Collision of DNA, Race, and History. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press. ISBN: 978-0-8135-5255-2.

[Another short review of this work will appear in Contemporary Sociology]

What a pleasure to review a timely, serious, and yet accessible critique of what one editor refers to as “the social life of DNA” - a life that has only broadened and intensified since the decoding of the human genome was coupled to the marketing of DNA analysis. Such analysis have given us unique insights into human evolution, medical treatments, and for many consumers, genealogies establishing ethnic, racial and personal identities.

The three introductory essays by the editors each present a different perspective – or better, an avenue of approach – to the constellation of knowledge that unites DNA, genealogy, history, the authority of science, the scientific ideologies of race, and the all too frequent effacement of gender in the search for origins and identity. This “social life of DNA” is clearly not meant as a simple rhetorical flourish or mere abstraction. Instead, it is used here as a description of the multiple social positions which derive authority from genetic data, on the one hand, while on the other hand, the phrase describes the varied knowledges that can be derived from the collection of genetic material: personal and familial history; differences and affinities with others, groups, and populations; and the means to construct a vision of our own past lives as embedded in the history of human migration and variation.

The editors’ essays nicely frame the important themes of the collection. What is for some – i.e., those few with the capital to access to the technologies and not the vast multitudes who are instead put to use as mere components of populations – the genomic era is one in which genealogical connections are simultaneously essential while also deeply ambiguous in their complexity. This is especially true for those who can claim multiple ancestries, as Wailoo demonstrates in “ Who Am I? Genes and the Problem of Historical Identity”.

Any one of us has multiple pathways for building a strong historical sense of self. Genetic analysis offers its own multiple pathways of self-knowledge. In some ways, the social logic of ancestry if not so different from the logic of genetic ancestry, for both depend on selective data that require us to make deliberate human choices in reconstructing the past. Both also depend upon complicated social machinery that makes the past available to us in the present. Finally, both depend upon assemblages of arbitrary databases, mixed with suppositions and memories.... (Wailoo, 20).

In circumstances of intense social conflict, genomic knowledge promises to provide a basis for recognition and reconciliation (Nelson). In such circumstances, genetic knowledge might very well serve to undermine or shatter illusions of racial/national/ethnic superiority or exclusivity – a perspective which may have been at the bottom of Bill Clinton’s declaration that the decoding of the genome had shown race to be an outmoded concept. Genomic knowledge offers itself up as a positive social force, promoting inclusion and recognition along with the possibility for reconciliation and reparations for past injustices:

With reconciliation projects, the insights of genetic science are applied to the discovery or confirmation of ancestry in the hopes of securing social inclusion, including rights and reparation. But to what extent can DNA identification be efficacious for African diasporic and/or racial reconciliation? What might be the consequences of the genetic mediation of African diasporic cultural politics that have historically involved social movement tactics and civil rights organizations? ....reconciliation projects also raise interesting and fraught contradictions: they threaten to reify race in the pursuit of repair for injury; they suggest how justice pursuits can be uneasily intertwined with commercial enterprises; they may substitute genetic data for the just outcomes that are sought, and indeed, they demonstrate well that facts may not, in and of themselves, secure justice” (Nelson, 29)

So, not all is bleak nor are we heading irresistibly towards a velvet neo-eugenics, but neither do we have any assurance that another bar is not about to be welded to the Iron Cage.

Catherine Lee’s essay “The Unspoken Significance of Gender in Constructing Kinship, Race, and Nation” reminds the reader that while the meaning and use of race is central in the unsettled genomic era; categories and assumptions about gender are called into question, but left unresolved and under-examined. For example, in the tracing of genealogical descent by male linage, a practice where women appear as breaks or gaps in the genealogical line of descent. The effacement of gender in genealogical practice brings claims of descent into question these are, finally, claims about the descent and distribution of property as they are about genetics.

People conceive of nations as imagined communities, wherein members can conceptualize links to one another across time or generations or space that are preternatural.... We can also see the ways in which DNA testing, in the context of the family, can literally transform the family into a microcosm of the nation.... Genetic genealogy that ignores complex gendered processes is not unlike other nation-building activities, which rely on the symbolic and physical work of men and women’s bodies while denying the existence of such efforts” (Lee, 36-38).

After the introductory pieces, the second section provides more involved descriptions of the methods of sample collection and the science of genetic analysis. As such, the essays in this section are very goods examples of making complex genetic knowledge accessible to a wide range of readers. The various authors raise the question: What are the effects of genetic science in the courtroom, medical research, in the production of knowledge, for identity claims, and perhaps just as important, as commercial ventures? These essays also highlight the pitfalls and limitations of using genetics to make historical claims about personal ancestry, racial origins, and human history. Using as one example the recent work of the International HapMap Consortium, Peter Chow-White’s “The Informationalization of Race” discusses the creation of populations and paradox that the genome’s destruction of the concept of race brings with it an “informationalization of race” that sorts humans into new categories while also inviting the reconstruction of scientific ideologies with a veneer of respectability offered by new information technologies.

This concern for classification is found in Lundy Braun and Evelynn Hammond’s essay “The Dilemma of Classification”. Bruan and Hammond do not attempt a general critique of classification (and unfortunately do not situate theirs in relation to earlier critiques). Rather than being a critique of classification, it is an attempt to trace the political ramifications of the construction of populations. To do so they “focus on Africa to historicize conceptual problems that plague the notions of populations and groups, whether macro or micro, and their use in genetic research.... Once named and studied in depth, knowledge of African societies was further flattened as anthropologists in the United States, notably Georges Peter Murdock, constructed internationally accessible atlases and databases, thereby making natural the existence of populations as bounded entities” (Bruan and Hammonds, 68).

Also deserving of special mention is the essay by the biologist Abram Gabriel on how the limitations, gaps, and biases in the collection and analysis of genetic material have often ignored in the rush to expand a genomic and genetic genealogy industry. As it is, the “concerns of this essay are how race has become part of our current discussions of genomics and whether it belongs there” (44). Gabriel’s essay will enlighten many readers who have had, as I have, a genetic sample analyzed for genealogical research.

The reviewer's origins map, according to one DNA genealogy company.

“As a molecular biologist, I realize that my field has entered the limelight and that knowledge about DNA is no longer the esoteric province of academic researchers. I take pride in the fact that the study of DNA and genomics has progressed so far so fast, and that the science is being recognized as a powerful tool for fundamental advances in disciplines as disparate as bio-medicine and human history. But I feel trepidation, too, that the transitional process is moving faster than the science itself, potentially leading to public misconceptions, oversimplifications, and unverifiable claims about the power of these discoveries, with consequent lowering of society’s trust in its scientists” (43-44).

Given this concern, the two chapters that remind us of the close connection between forensics and racial classification will many in a time when forensic detective dramas and reality shows remain quite popular. The contradictions between eyewitness descriptions, assumptions about race, and genetic analysis in forensics comes under critical review by Jonathan Khan in an effort to understand biases within the past 20 years of work in the field of criminal forensics. “In effect, forensic scientists have simply adopted the broad categories of race and ethnicity used in the U. S. Census in order to organize their genetic data.... Taken together, the persistent conceptualization of race as genetic, the confusion of statistical with forensic significance, and the deep-seated American identification of violent crime and race may be understood to frame and facilitate the inertial power of race to perpetuate itself as a salient category of forensic DNA analysis long after its practical legal utility has passed” (Khan, 130, 136-137). Pamela Sankar takes a critical look using the British Night Stalker – whose identification as a “light-skinned black man” seemed “at odds with the image” (Sankar, 110-111) distributed by the authorities – as a means to explore the supposed promise of DNA to allow forensic phenotyping of suspects.

"Police artist sketch of British serial rapist, dubbed the Night Stalker.  The sketch was accompanied by the statement that the subject was probably a 'light-skinned black man,' a description that some observers thought was at odds with the image" (Sankar,110)

Delroy Easton Grant, who was convicted of the Night Stalker rapes in a mug shot (remember where those originate!) and in an earlier surveillance video image.

The essay by Rajagopalan and Fujimura is a bookend to Gabriel’s piece. Going further than either Gabriel or Bruan and Hammond, they attempt to
untangle the relationships between continental ancestry, geography, history, population, and race in the practices, technologies, research designs, and research analyses/results of some admixture mapping studies in U.S. biomedical research.... Discourses of race and ancestry are deeply entangled in the constitution of genetic histories in contemporary bio-medicine, in ways that are contingent and mutually reinforcing. These discourses as embedded in the technologies of admixture mapping, have consequences for how disease studies, medical practices, public health policies, and popular culture use and interpret genetics to construct categories of difference” (Rajagopalan and Fujimura, 160).

The section “Stories Told in Blood” brings together a number of thoughtful and provocative essays that bring together notions of history, genealogy and identity. These essays range from a critique of the attempt to mark the genetic differences between French Canadians and native peoples, to the use of genetics to foster the process of reconciliation in South Africa, to argue for slavery reparations, or in for the control of historical knowledge and cultural artifacts such as the Kenniwick Man.

Several themes crisscross the essays that might be summarized as (in my words and not theirs): the social coding of DNA, which first consists of the commercialization and commodification of genetic data; second in the return of the repressed; and thirdly in the assertion of yet another new end of history. The social coding of DNA itself takes two ultimately intersecting paths: the first around issues of identity, genealogy, origin(s), nation and race; and the second around the actual coding of DNA in informatics and medicine. Both paths may well converge in their classifications of populations that re-inscribe and naturalize conceptions of “original stocks” that mingle only at the margins.

The discussions of the commercialization of DNA also take two broad approaches. In the first, medicine and pharmaceuticals are obviously important emerging markets, while paralleling this is the second route where forensics and judicial power increasingly rely upon genetic science to establish the guilt or innocence of the accused. Perhaps one of the most popular success in commercializing genetic analysis has been the use of genetics in personal genealogical research. All too often, the genetic analysis is marketed in such a way as to assist in the production of exclusive identities through the demarcation of populations, admixture mapping, and charting the degree of deviation from one of the parent populations. Spencer Wells, Henry Louis Gates, Jr., National Geographic, 23 and Me, Ancestry.com, and have profited from the rapid expansion of an industry that promise the consumer access to hidden, lost, diagnostic, or even forbidden knowledge of their own past. Several contributors point out that although the consumer may desire knowledge of their identity, the level of commercial genetic analysis can not actually provide it with any real certainty.

Another theme suggests a return of the repressed behind the use of genetic knowledge in promoting processes of repatriation and reconciliation to resolve historical social conflicts. Conversely, always lurking nearby are eugenics, degeneracy, and a watered-down polygenism. The practitioners and funders of the new genomics have conveniently repressed the notion that they represent the apparent survival of these earlier wretched knowledges raise for the sociological understanding of contemporary science.

The third theme of the collection is related to this refusal and repression of the past: the notion of living in the genomic era announces a new end of history In response, these essays critique the view that DNA is a kind of indestructible link to the past that supersedes History. Genetic history is made to appear as a seemingly apolitical narrative imbued with an aura of scientific authority. DNA analysis brings the notion of pre-history into the present and makes all of human existence “historical” at the very moment it abolishes from consideration – except as mere superstructure – the social forces that produce human history. The potential to reduce social life to the ebbs and flows, migrations and admixtures of genetic populations is clearly present. Reanne Frank’s essay on “the forbidden knowledge argument” addresses best the reluctance by geneticists and biologists to discuss the issues raised so well in this volume. Those who wish to avoid these questions often respond that they are heroically pursuing scientific knowledge. The very fact that their work is being criticized or even rejected by most of their peers is presented as the best evidence that they are being punished for revealing to us the “true” meaning of race. In deploying such arguments, Frank notes ironically, these self-declared martyrs for Science are placing their work outside of the history of science. Though Genetics and the Unsettled Past went to press before the most recent book by Nicholas Wade, it serves as a pre-critique of his use of genetic knowledge. Although he is mentioned only twice, reading this work in the context of the current controversy over Wade’s book speaks directly to the concerns raised by the continued publication of scientific ideologies packaged as popular scientific communication.

Many thoughts come to the reader upon reaching the conclusion of this collection. One, and it is purely speculative, is that the social construction of race may not be synonymous with the social life of DNA. They may constitute different modes of thinking about human variation, although it is certainly true that at times they seem to be the same coin struck in different years. Perhaps this similarity is an indication that both stand in similar relation to the reproduction of everyday life, i.e., to the practices of domination and authority that are stitched into the repetitions that structure everyday life in the modern world. As a result, the complexity of everyday life causes the social construction of race and the social life of DNA to diverge as critiques only to converge as explanations of social conflict.

As the object created through social construction, race refers to the social reproduction of a supposed essential quality that is manifested by the human body and though a corresponding ensemble of social relations. It carries with it a form of alienation, of something natural to each person that comes to stand apart and against them. In this instance, human variety as developed through the scientific ideology of race and its deployment in social policy. In the social life of DNA, we are confronted with the possibility that DNA represents the materiality of this essential quality and the visible manifestations are therefore secondary to the demarcations and exclusions of humans according to what Kant called our lineal stem stocks. At most, the visible differences in the skin simply serve as confirmation of the genetic material. And this is exactly the point where the social life of DNA meets the social construction of race. It is at this moment of convergence that both use race to confirm the meaning of human variety. Slipping back and forth between the two each to explain the other, because both express the scientific ideology of race in everyday life through the attempts to prove the value of race for understanding human difference. We find ourselves confronting a central problem that is not a return of the repressed because it was never repressed, and this problem now takes the form of the admixture of populations. Lurking in the nearby rubble dwells the figure of the Hybrid, a frequent object of earlier 17th-19th century attempts to understand race as the essential difference between humans. Rather than the genome finally allowing us to be done with race, one must ask to what degree might we be constantly speaking about the identification of homogeneous parent populations against which the deviations and degeneracy of the Hybrid can be measured?

The editors are to be commended not only for their own contributions, but in the selection of essays and the organization of the collection. Genetics and the Unsettled Past is a work that deserves a wide reading by sociologists and historians of science, medicine and technology, health policy analysts and ethicists, geneticists, genealogists and by students of related fields. The scholarly and critical depth of this volume is not at all compromised by its accessibility, making it a valuable source for students, scholars, and for those interested in the social implications of recent advances in the science of human genetics.

B. Ricardo Brown, Ph.D
Professor of Social Science & Cultural Studies
Department of Social Science & Cultural Studies
Pratt Institute