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Mutant bodies: race and biopolitics in Latin American scientific imaginaries

Sarah Abel

The term “scientific racism” is often used to refer to the biological-reductionist theories of race that emerged from Eurocentric anthropological thought in the nineteenth century. In this session, we extend this historiography to look at how diverse racial theories arose in colonial Latin American societies, to explain the supposedly inherent physiological and psychological differences between Indigenous populations, enslaved Africans, Spaniards and Portuguese, criollos, and their mixed descendants. These theories often revolved around assumptions about these populations’ reactions to the “natural world”: environment, climate, food – even the influence of the stars. We will also address how the racialized links between population and place that were established during the colonial period continue to resurface in contemporary forms of biomedical research and environmental racism.

Key issues:

  • Evolution of “scientific” racisms
  • Biopolitics
  • Mutation and fixity
  • Health and sickness as racialized categories
  • Geographic determinism and environmental racism

Required reading:

Further reading: