been relatively isolated geographic areas (for further discussion, see Montagu, 1972; Zuberi, 2001). The term “race” was used to distinguish populations in different areas on the basis of differing physical characteristics that had developed over time, such as skin color, facial features, and other characteristics (van den Berghe, 1967; Zuckerman, 1990).

Recently, genetics researchers have found evidence of genetic clusters that correspond to geographically similar populations and yield the kinds of phenotypic variations that have been used to construct concepts of race. Rosenberg et al. (2002) report on a study of 1,056 individuals from 52 different populations. The researchers found that a “soft” classification method using no a priori information on population groups identified six genetic clusters, five of which correspond directly to major geographic regions, as well as subclusters corresponding to specific populations. However, they concluded that within-population differences accounted for 93–95 percent of genetic variation in these individuals, supporting the argument that there are only small genetic differences among geographically different groups.

Although not all scientists agree (see Crow, 2002; Mayr, 2002; van den Berghe, 1967; Zuckerman, 1990), many critics deny that meaningful distinctions among contemporary human groups can be derived from a biological notion of race (see Cavalli-Sforza, 2000; Mead et al., 1968; Omi, 2001). At this point, science has not identified a set of genes that correspond with social conceptions of race. The panel offers no further discussion of any such biological components and focuses on race as a socially constructed concept.


In virtually all human societies, people take note of and assign significance to the physical characteristics of others, such as skin color, hair texture, and distinctive features. Race becomes socially significant when members of a society routinely divide people into groups based on the possession of these characteristics. These characteristics become socially significant when members of a society routinely use them to establish racial categories into which people are classified on the basis of their own or their ancestors’ physical characteristics and when, in turn, these categorizations elicit differing social perceptions, attitudes, and behaviors toward each group (see, e.g., Hollinger, 2000; Loury, 2002; Smelser et al., 2001).

The notion that race is about embodied social signification may be referred to as the social–cognitive approach to thinking about race (Fiske and Taylor, 1991; Loury, 2002). It is important to understand that this approach is conceptually distinct from biological–taxonomic notions of racial classification. No objective racial taxonomy need be valid to warrant the

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