Teaching 'race' at medical school: social scientists on the margin

Soc Stud Sci. 2008 Oct;38(5):785-800. doi: 10.1177/0306312708090798.


This essay examines the efforts of social scientists and humanities scholars to teach students at a major US medical school about 'race'. The objectives were to explain that race is no longer considered a biologically legitimate concept and to demonstrate that race remains an influential social classification, causing social and biological harm. That is, these educators sought to reframe the medical significance of race. An examination of the email discussions of those involved in this teaching exercise (which included the author) reveals concerns over the credibility of social scientists and humanities scholars speaking on genetics in the modern medical school. It also indicates the intellectual and curricular marginalization of critiques of racial classification in medical education. In science studies journals one can read convincing deconstructions of the new genetics of race, but it is rare to find an analysis of how ideas about race figure in the mundane practice of educating future medical doctors and researchers. Through examination of an exemplary, wide-ranging discussion of an attempt to teach on race in the medical curriculum, this essay addresses the disciplinary and institutional difficulties of translating critiques of controversial science into pedagogy.

Publication types

  • Historical Article

MeSH terms

  • Education, Medical, Undergraduate* / history
  • Genetics, Medical / education*
  • Genetics, Medical / history
  • History, 20th Century
  • History, 21st Century
  • Humans
  • Racial Groups / genetics*
  • Racial Groups / history
  • United States