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  • Writer's pictureWilliam Harrop

Replacing race, weaponizing culture Abstract

Replacing race, weaponizing culture: UNESCO, racial science, and decolonisation in the Global South, c.1945-1980


The UNESCO statements on race, issued between 1950 and 1951, are an often-cited landmark in traditional historical narratives of the ‘end’ of twentieth century racial science after the Second World War. This essay builds on current scholarly trends towards reassessing their rhetoric. This essay will argue that the four UNESCO statements on race, between 1950 and 1967, constituted part of a wider ‘anti-racist’ effort to replace ‘race’ with ‘culture’ as a category of human difference. Rather than spelling the end of racial science, however, this new ‘anti-racist’ approach led to a racialised understanding of culture, which merely reformulated and intensified the relationship between racial thought and science. Focusing on the era of decolonisation in the Global South, which has been neglected until recently, it will outline how supposedly anti-racist science buttressed and justified the violent suppression of anti-colonial nationalism, and the panoply of coercive colonial development projects that emerged to support European imperialism after 1945. Indeed, as this essay will illuminate, it was only in the 1970s that the continuation of racial thought in international scientific circles could be successfully contested by scientific actors in the Global South. However, mirroring the contradictory and unstable relationship between science and empire, it will also outline how racial science remained, and remains, central to the ongoing project of post-colonial state-building

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