Academic journal article Mankind Quarterly

A Terminology for Human Variation Studies: Defining "Racialism," "Racial Hierarchism" and "Racism"

Academic journal article Mankind Quarterly

A Terminology for Human Variation Studies: Defining "Racialism," "Racial Hierarchism" and "Racism"

Article excerpt

Numerous controversies and misunderstandings surround the study of human biological variation. It is agued in this paper that terminological clarification could result in a better understanding of several important issues within this field of research. Following on the work of George Fredrickson, the terms "racialism" and "racism" are defined and a new phrase - "racial hierarchism" - is introduced and defined.

Key Words: Human Variation, Terminology, Racialism, Racial Hierarchism, Racism

The major reason for the existence of a race problem is that so many people have a faulty understanding of race.

Ernst Mayr, What Evolution Is


The study of modern human biological variation has been one of the most contentious fields in the history of anthropology if not science in general (cf., e.g. Stocking, 1968; Barkan, 1992; Marks, 1995; Wolpoff and Caspari, 1997; Brace, 2005; Ellison and Goodman, 2006; Koenig and Lee, 2008; Edgar and Hunley, 2009; Hammonds and Herzig, 2009). Numerous misunderstandings and controversies abound in this area of research. Reasons for this are many and varied (Strkalj, 2008). They stem both from the complexity of the phenomena studied and the potential and actual social implications of the research. It would appear that one of the important contributing factors to past and current confusion within the field of human variation studies is the lack of clarity in terminology. This is perhaps best seen when one considers "race" - the concept which, for many years, was the key in describing and understanding human biological variation, while at the same time being the concept around which most of the controversies revolved. There have always been major differences in how the meaning of the term race is to be understood and it was these differences that often produced considerable confusion. The understanding of the term was shown to be context specific and varied in different cultural circles and research traditions (Aspinall, 2007). It was also demonstrated that the acceptance of the validity of the concept in research on human variation may vary significantly within the same group of anthropologists depending on how the term "race" is defined (Kaszycka and Strkalj, 2002; Kaszycka and Strzalko, 2003; Strkalj and Gibbon, 2007; Kaszycka et al., 2009). It is therefore not surprising that it has been argued repeatedly by various anthropologists that terminological change might significantly reduce misunderstandings concerning human variation. Similar terminological confusion is also to be found in other disciplines (e.g. Ellison, 1999; Sankar et al., 2007). Consequently, standardisation of racial and ethnic terms has been proposed (Aspinall, 2007; Smart, et al. 2008; Lee, et al. 2008).

That which applies to "race" applies equally to similar concepts and terms derived from "race" such as "racism" and "racialism". While, for example, some authors clearly distinguish between the meanings of the terms racism and racialism, others use them interchangeably as having the same meaning (Fredrickson, 2001). It is argued in this paper that in discourse on human variation it would be useful to distinguish between and define three different concepts and three corresponding terms, namely "racialism", "racial hierarchism" and "racism". These interventions in terminology could contribute towards a better understanding of both the history and current debates on human variation. The position advocated here is based on the views presented recently by historian George Fredrickson (2001; cf. Brace, 2005). These views are here slightly modified and certain additions are made.

Definitions: "Racialism,"

"Racial Hierarchism," "Racism"

In his Short History of Racism, Fredrickson (2001) suggested that a clear distinction between the terms "racialism" and "racism" should be made. He adopted the definition of racialism proposed by Apiah, as the belief "that there are heritable characteristics, possessed by members of our species, that allow us to divide them into a smaller set of races in such a way that all members of these races share certain traits and tendencies with each other that they do not share with members of any other race" (Appiah, 1990: 45) . …

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