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Thread: Genetics, Ethnicity vs Sociological or Biological Races

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    Post Genetics, Ethnicity vs Sociological or Biological Races

    I believe for true single-allele recessive traits, the incidence in the population of the observable trait (i.e. of the phenotype) will greatly diminish in proportion in the worldwide population if the proportion of that allele type is small to begin with. This may mean a smaller percentage of the worldwide population having blond hair and/or blue eyes. But in my personal observation, what are called "recessive traits" in humans are not either/or and perhaps not single-allele (they are often polygenic). For example, there are many shades of hair from black to platinum blond and many colours of eyes from virtually black to almost colourless. Thus, I don't think large scale mixing of races will lead to bland uniformity but merely to greater continuity across the scale of observable traits.

    DNA studies can always challenge the meaning of "race" and we can find out that a very small percentage of the alleles code for physical characteristics. The idea of biological race assumes traits come packaged together, even colour-coded for our convenience. In other words, if biological race were real, we'd find that skin colour or other "racial" markers would correlate with a suite of other genetic traits. Knowing an individual's "race" should enable us to predict his or her other genes and traits.

    The issue is that DNA sequences of genetic "footprints" that can show from which continent our ancestors came from don't carry genetic information. Known by geneticists as "microsatellite short tandem repeats" (and more colloquially as "junk DNA"), they do not code for proteins. In fact, they have no genetic function. They just sit there. Because mutations in sequences that don't code for anything are invisible to natural and sexual selection, they are passed down generation to generation. Comparing these accumulated mutation patterns can provide clues to ancient population movements. But they have nothing to do with physical traits such as skin colour, hair texture or blood type. Most human variation falls within, not between populations when micro-satellite short tandem repeats are studied. Most traits are influenced by separate genes and inherited independently one from another.

    The reason for all this within-group variation is because unlike most other species, modern humans, Homo sapiens sapiens, are young, only about 150,000 years or so old, and we've always moved. Human populations just haven't been isolated from each other long enough to evolve into separate subspecies, or real races. As humans migrated around the globe, populations bumped into each other and shared their mates - and genes. Sometimes genes flowed across great distances - through trade, war, slavery, piracy, exile and migration. More often they flowed from village to village to village.

    What I find interesting is the divergence time of two populations, which is the amount of time that has elapsed since the populations arose from an ancestral group and the difference of coalescence time of a set of copies of a gene is the amount of time that has elapsed since the most recent common ancestor (MRCA) of the gene copies lived, through some form of a geneaological tree.

    Migration can make coalescence occur more recently. The divergences of humans and chimpanzees, modern humans and Neanderthals, Africans and non-Africans, and Native Americans (American-Indians) and Asians are all interesting. All this can be examined from different genotypic demographical and mutational conditions.

    Since the nineteenth century, sociological perspectives on race have developed and changed, always reflecting shifts in large-scale political processes. But the true concept of race appeals to biologically-based human characteristics (so called "phenotypes").

    Germanic, Baltic, Slavic or Romance (Gallo and Ibero) are ethnical labels and it's not scientific to use them when we want to study racial types. They were content with speaking about "folk races" (e.g. "Germanic" and "Romance") under the biggest part of the 19th century. When they later found out how little that corresponded with modern racial characteristics and racial spreadings they started to use ancient folk labels like "Celtic", "Ligurian", "Hittite" race and so forth!

    It was Deniker (settled in France, but born in Russia) who around the 1890's resolutely decomposed that folk race system and made pure empirical form races (6 main- and 4 sub-races), based on measurements and other observations. Then Eickstedt, Saller and Bunak made the classifications more realistic.

    I don't even believe in the Volkskörper term German scientists used in early 20th century. That is defined by ethnicity. So I think we should follow the great British physician and anthropologist, John Beddoe's folk stock examinations in Britain and Bertil Lundman's biologically defined folk stocks (different sub-types can reside in this area, but it's biological) of Baltoskandia (Baltics and Scandinavia). But even the folk stock terminology is sometimes not enough, as it's average types that are focused on and not individuals per se.

    But there will always be an issue where people don't know which sub-race they are. It's easier to know what you cannot be than what you are. But we are able to classify all Europids who don't have a recent non-Europid mixture. We can have different opinions what type a person is. But I have seen that we can often reach a consensus.

    In English and French language convention race can somewhat mean folk stock and even in other places race (systematic) or even Volkskörper - Besides, the terminologies ethnology and anthropology in English (but not in French!) are as floating and can almost always substitute each other.

    Last edited by Glenlivet; Friday, April 11th, 2003 at 09:40 PM.

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