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Emily Boyd Reynolds-Anth102-009


What is “race?” “Race” is a word, like many other words, that has a variety of meanings.

Miller defines race as “a classification of people into groups on the basis of supposedly

homogeneous and biological traits such as skin color or hair characteristics” (Miller 2011:23).

The word “race” is referred to in numerous different ways and can mean countless different

things to many people. The classification and understanding of race varies culturally, socially,

and historically. Amade M’Charek and John Hartigan, authors of research ethnography, discuss

what the theoretical meaning of “race” is and how it changes among each culture and around the


Amade M’Charek, author of Beyond Fact or Fiction: On the Materiality of Race in

Practice, discussed what he believes are the two meanings of “race,” and later argues which is he

believes is more accurate. One meaning being strictly biological, the other claiming there is no

such thing as biological race. To understand biological race, it’s key to look into the a person

body. Every person is made up of a biological markers like blood group, proteins, and genes.

“[It ] is a collection of biological markers that help sort people and cluster them in natural kinds”

(M’Charek 2013). The contrast, is claiming that biological race does not even exist. M’Charek

claims that in society “race” is seen as a myth. He uses a “material semiotic” approach to

investigate the materiality of race by referring to several case scenarios (M’Charek 2013). In

each one he shows that race does not materialize in the body, but rather in relationships and

relations established between a variety of entities. These cases make clear that race cannot be

reduced to skin color, physical characteristics, or national identity. He claims that race is better

defined as something similar to ethnicity, the shared sense of identity based on heritage,
language, and culture. In conclusion, M’Charek believes that race does not inhere in skin color,

physical characteristics, a palmar crease, DNA, clothing, or national identity but it is a

configuration and effect many of things.

M’Charek focuses on the definition of race while in contrast John Hartigan targets how

“race” varies across different cultures, especially between the United States and Mexico.

Hartigan question how skin color is perceived and interpreted in each country. This ethnography

focuses on his efforts to work on racial situations in the United States and comparing and

examining race in Mexico. He begins to question how skin color is perceived and interpreted in

each country. Then he later moves on to consider the different philosophies about racial purity,

as well as the contrasting importance of biology and culture in defining race.The main concern

that he points out is applying race as a common analytical frame in both countries can lead to

trouble. Trying to translate between “raza” and “race” in both contexts risks losing important

distinctions and difference in each country. As well, there are key contrasts highlighted between

“race” and “raza” that should not be ignored when trying settle upon one seamless analytical

meaning in both countries. He highlights several sociological and anthropological cases that

show there are various reasons to believe that the we can not assume the word “race” implies the

same meaning in all cultures.

What “race” truly means remains subject to intense debate. Something that is certain, and

proved by these ethnography, is what that race is recognized as changes continuously depending

on location, personal view, and time in history.


Miller, Barbara
2011. Cultural Anthropology in a Globalizing World. 3rd Edition. Pearson.

Amade M’Charek
2013. “Beyond Fact or Fiction: On the Materiality of Race in Practice.” American

John Hartigan
2013. “Translating “Race” and “Raza” between the United States and Mexico”
American Anthropologist