The American Philosophical Society invites all who are interested to a Lunch at the Library series presentation from Sebastián Gil-Riaño, who will be discussing his new book, The Remnants of Race Science: UNESCO and Economic Development in the Global South (Columbia University Press, 2023).
After World War II, UNESCO launched an ambitious international campaign against race prejudice. Casting racism as a problem of ignorance, it sought to reduce prejudice by spreading the latest scientific knowledge about human diversity to instill “mutual understanding” between groups of people. This campaign has often been understood as a response led by British and U.S. scientists to the extreme ideas that informed Nazi Germany. Yet many of its key figures were social scientists either raised in or closely involved with South America and the South Pacific.
The Remnants of Race Science traces the influence of ideas from the Global South on UNESCO’s race campaign, illuminating its relationship to notions of modernization and economic development. Sebastián Gil-Riaño examines the campaign participants’ involvement in some of the most ambitious development projects of the postwar period. In challenging race prejudice, these experts drew on ideas about race that emphasized plasticity and mutability, in contrast to the fixed categories of scientific racism. Gil-Riaño argues that these same ideas legitimated projects of economic development and social integration aimed at bringing ostensibly “backward” indigenous and non-European peoples into the modern world. He also shows how these experts’ promotion of studies of race relations inadvertently spurred a deeper reckoning with the structural and imperial sources of racism as well as the aftermath of the transatlantic slave trade.
Shedding new light on the postwar refashioning of ideas about race, this book reveals how internationalist efforts to dismantle racism paved the way for postcolonial modernization projects.
This event will take place on Wednesday, January 31, 2024 at 12:00 p.m. ET in the Society’s Benjamin Franklin Hall and will also be livestreamed. This event is free to attend but registration is required. Please register to attend in-person and online. Lunch will be provided to those attending in person.
Sebastián Gil-Riaño is an Assistant Professor of History and Sociology of Science at the University of Pennsylvania. Born in Colombia and raised in Canada, he is a historian of science who studies transnational scientific conceptions of race, culture, and indigeneity in the twentieth century. His first book, The Remnants of Race Science: UNESCO and Economic Development in the Global South was published by Columbia University Press on August 29th, 2023.