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Key Issues and Texts: Perspectives on Race in Latin America

Seminar 1: Dynamics of race and racism in Latin America (SA)

This session provides an introduction to critical studies of race and racism in Latin America. It will consider different ways of defining race and ethnicity, and examine the specificities of how race has been imagined and constructed in Latin American societies, particularly revolving around concepts of “blood purity” and “colour”. It will also look at the forms that racism takes in societies founded on histories and ideologies of mixture.

Key issues

  • Defining race and ethnicity
  • “Blood purity”, “colour” and social hierarchy
  • Varieties of racism

Key texts


Seminar 2: Race, Eugenics and Reproductive Justice in Latin America (RSR)

Latin America plays a pivotal role in the struggle for reproductive justice. This lecture will explore the nineteenth and twentieth century project of racial understanding that developed into what has been called scientific racism, involving forms of racial measurement and taxonomy. It will examine how historically specific ideas of race became ‘scientific truths’, and the implications of having the ‘respectability’ of science behind racist beliefs. Thus, we will explore the history of the body and race intersectionally to explore the echoes and continuations of scientific racism in contemporary Latin America.

Key issues

  • Reproductive Justice
  • Scientific Racism
  • Gender
  • Mestizaje
  • Technology

Key texts

  • Kaplana, W. In the name of reproductive rights: race, neoliberalism and the embodied violence of population policies. Righting Feminism. Vol 91, 2017. P.50-68. (Moodle)
  • Preciado, P. Testo Junkie: Sex, Drugs and Biopolitics in the Pharmacopornographic Era. New York: The Feminist Press, 2013. (Somatic Fictions: The Invention of Sex Hormones) (CLAS Librarian)
  • Stepan, Nancy. "The hour of eugenics": Race, Gender, and Nation in Latin America. Ithaca, NY: Cornell U Press, 1996. (Chapter 2: Eugenics in Latin America: Its Origins and Institutional Ecology/Chapter 5: National Identities and Racial Transformations) (Moodle)
  • Wade, P., C. López Beltrán, E. Restrepo, and R. Ventura Campos. Mestizo Genomics: Race Mixture, Nation, and Science in Latin America. Durham: Duke University Press. (e-book)



Seminar 3: Ideas and Practices of Mestizaje in Latin America (AIA) 

This seminar explores ideas and practices of mestizaje throughout Latin America with a view to discuss their potential to effect and contest racial (and other racialised) social hierarchies. In order to do so, we contrast state-sponsored ideologies of mestizaje with quotidian practices that at times reinforce, and at times undermine, these ideologies. First, we address the coloniality of mestizaje, focusing on its sexual, sexualised and gendered underpinnings. Using examples of the Andes, we further discuss how claims of mestizaje have also been used as a strategy for women to contravene social hierarchies in this context. Second, expanding the analysis to other contexts, we explore the emergence of mestizaje in national discourse and the claiming of mestizaje as an identity. In particular, we debate the oppressive aspects, as well as the convivial and affective dimensions of mestizaje as a lived experience. Throughout this session, we interrogate the ambivalent prospects offered by these different ideas and practices of mestizaje in the fight against racism in the region, in particular its gendered dimension.

Key issues

  • Conviviality
  • Coloniality
  • Mestizaje and gender
  • Racism

Key texts 

  • da Costa, Alexandre Emboaba (2016) The (un)happy objects of affective community, Cultural Studies, 30 (1), 24-46.
  • Rivera, Silvia (2010) ‘Mestizaje colonial andino: una hipótesis de trabajo’ and ‘En defensa de mi hipótesis sobre el mestizaje colonial andino’, in: ______ Violencias (re)encubiertas en Bolivia. La Paz: La Mirada Salvaje, 64-135.
  • Wade, Peter (2018) Mestizaje and conviviality in Brazil, Colombia, and Mexico. Mecila Working Paper Series, No. 7. São Paulo: The Maria Sibylla Merian International Centre for Advanced Studies in the Humanities and Social Sciences Conviviality-Inequality in Latin America.
  • Weismantel, Mary (2001), ‘Chapter 3: Sharp Trading’ and ‘Founding Fathers’, in: ______ Cholas and Pishtacos: Stories of race and sex in the Andes. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 83-135 and 154-159.


Seminar 4: The science and politics of visualising race (SA)

TThis session looks at how different scientific fields have begun to produce new ways of representing ancestry and skin colour, as a means of shedding light on demographic histories, or of measuring the socioeconomic impacts of colour prejudice upon Latin American societies. It will critically examine the methodologies being used to quantify concepts like colour and ancestry, exploring whether it is possible to measure these phenomena objectively, without re-inscribing race in, and on the body. It will also consider the political stakes involved in the collection and mobilisation of different kinds of racial statistics by state institutions.

Key issues

  • Concepts of objectivity in science
  • Different modes of visualising skin colour and ancestry
  • Politics of representation in official statistics

Key texts

NB: Please read one pairing out of: Nieves Delgado et al. (2017) with Stern (2003) on Mexico; or Schwarcz (2012) with Santos et al. (2009) on Brazil, in addition to the other two key texts.


Seminar 5: Race, space and place: urban governance and biopolitics (LDW)

This lecture considers how conceptions of race underlie the governance of cities, with a focus on Foucauldian biopolitics and literatures on space&place. Taking a historical approach, this lecture covers 19th and 20th century policies of eugenics, infrastructure, land rights and security in order to interrogate how urban planning and infrastructures are embedded within racial discourses that have profound impacts for how people differently experience the city. The guiding question is: How do the historical interaction and plural meanings of race impact governance and the experience of space and place in the city?

Key texts

  • Harris, Cheryl. 1993. Whiteness as Property. Harvard Law Review, Vol. 106, No. 8 (Jun., 1993), pp. 1707-1791
  • Nemser, Daniel. 2017. Infrastructures of Race: Concentration and Biopolitics in Colonial Mexico. University of Texas Press. [check with CLAS Librarian]

Extra reading: (see Moodle)

  • Costa Vargas, Joao, H. 2014. Taking Back the Land: Police Operations and Sport Megaevents in Rio de Janeiro. A Critical Journal of Black Politics, Culture, and Society. 15(4):275-303.
  • Hayden, Dolores. The Power of Place: Urban Landscapes as Public History. Chapters 1 and 2.


Seminar 6: Anti-racisms in debate (SA)

This session examines the different approaches that have been taken to tackling racism, in its multiple forms, in Latin American societies. Traditionally, many nations in the region have presented mestizaje/mestiçagem as a process that naturally alleviates racial tensions by dissolving the cultural and biological differences between their founding populations. In recent years this idea has been challenged, in particular by Black and Afro-descendant intellectuals and activists, who argue that ideologies of racial mixture have served to veil forms of prejudice and perpetuate systemic racial inequalities. This session considers the potential and limitations of multiculturalist approaches to tackling racism and inequality, and the polemics that have surrounded key initiatives like the introduction of “racial” quotas at Brazilian universities.

Key issues

  • “Colour-blind” versus “race-positive” approaches
  • Multiculturalism in “mestizo/mestiço” nations
  • Affirmative action policies

Key texts