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Race, Science and Society

What is the role of the life and social sciences in shaping our understanding of race? How has racial stratification influenced scientists and how have scientists constructed racial difference and helped to maintain or contest racial inequities? How have these racial theories shaped the production of scientific knowledge and the way we think about human bodies, diversity, and commonality—and what are the consequences for society?  This course draws on an interdisciplinary body of biological and social scientific literature to explore critically the connections between race, science, and society in the United States from the eighteenth century to the current genomic age. After investigating biological, social, and political concepts of race, as well as their uses in eugenics, social science, and medicine, we will focus on the recent expansion of genomic research and technologies that treat race as a biological category that can be identified at the molecular level, including race-specific pharmaceuticals and commercial ancestry testing. We will discuss the significance of this increase in race consciousness in genomic research and technology at a time when colorblindness and post-racialism are gaining popularity.

Dorothy Roberts
George A. Weiss University Professor of Law and Sociology Raymond Pace and Sadie Tanner Mossell Alexander Professor of Civil Rights 
Professor of Africana Studies
Director, Program on Race, Science, and Society

Dorothy Roberts is the fourteenth Penn Integrates Knowledge Professor, George A. Weiss University Professor, and the inaugural Raymond Pace and Sadie Tanner Mossell Alexander Professor of Civil Rights at University of Pennsylvania, where she holds appointments in the Law School and Departments of Africana Studies and Sociology. An internationally recognized scholar, public intellectual, and social justice advocate, she has written and lectured extensively on the interplay of gender, race, and class in legal issues and has been a leader in transforming public thinking and policy on reproductive health, child welfare, and bioethics. Professor Roberts is the author of the award-winning books Killing the Black Body: Race, Reproduction, and the Meaning of Liberty (Random House/Pantheon, 1997) and Shattered Bonds: The Color of Child Welfare (Basic Books/Civitas, 2002), as well as co-editor of six books on constitutional law and gender. She has also published more than eighty articles and essays in books and scholarly journals, including Harvard Law Review, Yale Law Journal, and Stanford Law Review. Her latest book, Fatal Invention: How Science, Politics, and Big Business Re-create Race in the Twenty-First Century, was published by the New Press in July 2011. Professor Roberts has been a professor at Rutgers and Northwestern University, a visiting professor at Stanford and Fordham, and a fellow at Harvard University's Program in Ethics and the Professions, Stanford’s Center for Comparative Studies in Race and Ethnicity, and the Fulbright Program. She serves as chair of the board of directors of the Black Women’s Health Imperative, on the board of directors of the National Coalition for Child Protection Reform, and on the advisory boards of the Center for Genetics and Society and Family Defense Center. She also serves on a panel of five national experts that is overseeing foster care reform in Washington State and on the Standards Working Group of the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (stem cell research). She recently received awards from the National Science Foundation, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and the 2010 Dorothy Ann and Clarence L. Ver Steeg Distinguished Research Fellowship.