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Intrinsic Social and Political Bias in the History of American Physical AnthropologyWith Special Reference to the Work of Aleš Hrdlička

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Abstract

Prior to World War II research in physical anthropology functioned within its social and political context to produce an inegalitarian ideology. Aleš Hrdlička, 1869-1943, held a prominent place in these developments. Subsequent contextual changes (not simply hypothesis testing) produced epistemological changes.Although the field has been liberalized, many of the research interests and beliefs regarding the concept of race of the pre-war period remained for reasons having little to do with analytical efficacy. The continuing emphasis placed on naturalistic explanation in general is shown in continuity with the apologetic politics of pre-war anthropology. Yet, its promise for political application has dimished. Alternatives with broader application exist in social science approaches to comparative human biology, but social constraints upon the field limit the focus of physical anthropology to natural history. Moreover, this historical analysis shows socio-scientific articulation is intrinsic to the process of scientific discovery and change.
... The history of the concept of race and its development and relevance within biological and forensic anthropology has been described in the literature (e.g., Blakey 1987;Brace 1982;Caspari 2003Caspari , 2009Cunha & Ubelaker 2020;DiGangi & Hefner 2013;Hefner et al. 2012;Ousley et al. 2018; Ta'ala 2015) and will not be thoroughly reviewed again here. Instead, we provide a brief overview of the four classifiers (i.e., "race," "ethnicity," "population," and "ancestry") identified in this research (excluding "other"). ...
... Race is hereditary; language is a cultural acquisition" (Hooton 1936:512). Hrdlička was less explicit about his definition of race; although, his work is overtly racist and illustrates his support of eugenics (Blakey 1987;Blakey 2021;Marks 2008;Oppenheim 2010). Both of which are evident in his approach to "assimilation of the colored population" in which he further stated, "If this should happen, some change in the white body would be inevitable, and it would be a bold scientist who could argue that such an event might be beneficial" (Hrdlička 1928:85). ...
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To understand the implications of the forensic anthropological practice of “ancestry” estimation, we explore terminology that has been employed in forensic anthropological research. The goal is to evaluate how such terms can often circulate within social contexts as a result, which may center forensic anthropologists as constituting “race” itself through analysis and categorization. This research evaluates terminology used in anthropological articles of the Journal of Forensic Sciences between 1972 and 2020 (n = 314). Terminology was placed into two categories: classifiers and descriptors. Classifiers were standardized into one of five options: “race,” “ancestry,” “population,” “ethnic,” or “other.” Descriptors included terms used to describe individuals within these classificatory systems. We also compared these terms to those in the NamUs database and the U.S. census. Our results found that the terms “ancestry” and “race” are often conflated and “ancestry” largely supplanted “race” in the 1990s without a similar change in research approach. The NamUs and census terminology are not the same as that used in forensic anthropological research; illustrating a disconnect in the terms used to identify the missing, unidentified, and in social contexts with those used in anthropological research. We provide histories of all of these terms and conclude with suggestions for how to use terminology in the future. It is important for forensic anthropologists to be cognizant of the terms they use in medicolegal contexts, publications, and in public and/or professional spaces. The continued use of misrepresentative and improper language further marginalizes groups and perpetuates oppression rooted in systemic racism.
... These typological views of human variation were entrenched in and reinforced by the IRCs that have been used to develop and test methods [5,7,23], beginning with the establishment of some of the most important IRCs in the USA (Terry and Hamann-Todd collections) and South Africa (Dart collection) in the 20th century [1,56]. Despite the enormous significance of the IRCs to Forensic Anthropology, very little attention has been paid to how the amassing and use of IRCs have been shaped by a typological view of variation, while at the same time the collections have reinforced the typological approach [1,5,7]. ...
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In some jurisdictions, race, ancestry or population affinity are part of the biological profile used in preliminary identification, for historical and political reasons. It is long overdue for forensic anthropologists to abandon this typological approach to human variation, regardless of the terms used. Using a sample (n = 105) selected from the Terry and Coimbra identified reference collections, a blind experimental approach is used to test several metric methods and versions of methods for group estimation (Fordisc 3.0 and 3.1, and AncesTrees), that rely on different statistical approaches (discriminant function analysis and random forest algorithms, respectively) derived from different reference samples (Howells’ data in AncesTrees and Fordisc 3.1, and different forensic subsamples in Fordisc 3.0 and 3.1). The accuracy for matching premortem documented group designation is consistently low (36 to 50%) across testing parameters and consistent with other independent tests. The results clearly show that a change in terminology, software updates, alternative statistics, expanded reference samples, and newer collections will not solve the underlying fundamental problems. It is possible and necessary to transition from a typological conceptualization of variation to the effective utilization of identified reference collections in Forensic Anthropology. In addition to the theoretical and methodological reasons, it is unethical for forensic anthropologists to continue to use on the deceased methods that do not work and that serve only to further exclude and marginalize the living.
... Martin, 1998). Applied to human biocultural studies, several (Blakey, 1987;Haraway, 1989) who have conducted research on the roots and continuities of physical anthropology, have illuminated a history of naturalizing processes, which rather than being based on good science, tends to maintain existing socioeconomic inequalities. ...
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For the forensic anthropologist, the estimation of sex comprises the first step in theprocess of identification of human skeletal remains. This study employs the use of third-wave and post-structural feminist, and queer theories in order to analyze how processesof inequality interact with our understanding of human biolologies, specificallysurrounding the notions of sex and gender, and to assess the impacts of these inequalitieson the methodologies and discourses in the discipline. Through the use of criticaldiscourse analysis, I demonstrate how forensic anthropology ideologically conceptualizessexual difference in four ways: 1) as reducible to only biology; 2) as a natural givenidentifiable by genotypic and phenotypic traits; 3) as classifiable into binary oppositions,where indeterminateness relates to a researcher’s degree of certainty and not sex-genderfluidity; and 4) as static and unchanging.
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... Likewise, the geneticist Charles Davenport instituted an extreme hereditarian view with White supremacist expectations at his Eugenics Records Office at Cold Spring Harbor. The Immigration Act of 1924 and racial segregation (including the reign of terror required to implement it) were justified in the highest and lowest quarters of White America by the science of eugenics: the manipulation of the organic evolution of society (Allen, 1975;Blakey, 1987Blakey, , 1996Gould, 1981;Ludmerer, 1972;Patterson, 1951). In opposition to this form of scientific racism, German-American Jewish anthropologist, Franz Boas at Columbia University advocated biological "plasticity" of European American somatotypes and crania to exemplify the "environmental" mutability of races (Boas, 1912;Stocking, 1966Stocking, , 1989. ...
Article
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This paper presents new demographic findings for a high altitude Himalayan population residing in Ladakh, India, and reviews problematic issues regarding the hypothesized relationship between fertility/fecundity and altitude in the Himalayas in light of these findings. It concludes that the low completed fertility ratio reported for the Sherpas of Khumbu, Nepal, is not caused by hypoxia-induced low fecundity, but is the product of cultural factors affecting the exposure of females to the risk of intercourse, a critical confounding factor that has not received adequate consideration in previous studies. Contrary to earlier reports, the present study demonstrates that all high altitude Himalayan populations for which published data exist exhibit moderately high fertility and fecundity, and do not differ significantly in their fertility levels. Furthermore, it argues that the claims for a statistically significant difference in fertility between high, moderate, and low altitude Himalayan populations are groundless, and suggests that a parallel reevaluation of Andean findings is required. [fertility, fecundity, hypoxia, Himalayas, Andes]
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This paper was first prepared for an audience of anthropo-logists in the United States of America, where I have taught and researched for the past twelve years.!" Some of the questions that it raises apply, although perhaps less acutely, to social and cultural anthropologists from the other industrial nations of Western Europe, North America, Australia, and New Zealand. The international circumstances to which I refer no doubt also create problems for anthropologists born and resident in a num-ber of the Latin American, Asian, and African countries where much anthropological research is carried out. I should be espe-cially glad if this paper stimulates some among the latter anthro-pologists to comment on how these circumstances are viewed by them and how they affect their work. Recently a number of anthropologists, and of students, have complained that cultural and social anthropology is failing to tackle significant problems of the modern world. As I have thought so for some time, I should like to make a tentative statement about where I think we stand today, and to follow it with some proposals. This being a new departure, I must ask to be excused if I am both obvious and argumentative. Anthropology is a child of Western imperialism. It has roots in the humanist visions of the Enlightenment, but as a university discipline and a modem science it came into its own in the last decades of the nineteenth and the early twentieth centuries.
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