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Mestizaje/mestiçagem: between science, visual culture, and subjective experience

Sarah Abel

At different times and in different places, mixture been presented as biological and/or cultural fact, founding myth, eugenic ideology, anti-racist programme, and mechanism for the reproduction of racial inequalities and exclusions in Latin American societies.

In this session, we will examine the origins and evolution of discourses of “racial” mixture (mestizaje/mestiçagem) their centrality to myths of national identity, and their relationship to structural and systemic forms of racism, focusing on the biological sciences and visual arts as key areas of cultural production. In particular, we will analyse the role of genetic population studies in reinvigorating biological conceptions of admixture, exploring how these “genomic portraits” have been used in recent years to reproduce and/or challenge traditional concepts of “race” and collective identity. In addition, we will discuss how these “objective” scientific viewpoints can be reconciled with ethnographic and autobiographical accounts of the social construction of mestizo/a identities, which tend to be rooted in cultural norms and strategic practices, rather than considerations of genetic mixture.

Key issues:

  • Origins and evolution of mestizaje/mestiçagem discourses in Latin American societies
  • Relationships between national ideologies of mixture, racist thought and politics of exclusion
  • Roles of education, science, and art in producing collective imaginaries of mixture
  • Emergence of cultural, biological, and biocultural conceptions of “race”
  • Subjective experiences of mestizo/a identity

Required reading:

In addition:

  • Visit the website “Mosaico genético: una mirada desde las artes”. Read the project description (see “El Proyecto”), and then browse the artworks created for the project (see “Galería”). Choose one artwork or text from the page that you find interesting, and write some brief notes about how the piece relates to themes of mestizaje and identity (we will discuss the artworks further in the seminar).

Further reading: