Message posted on 30/11/2022

CfP The politics, epistemologies and ethics of naming populations in the life sciences

Dear colleagues,

please find enclosed our call for workshop papers and articles "Mere labels, racial concepts, or scientific methods? The politics, epistemologies and ethics of naming populations in the life sciences and beyond". The Workshop will take part in Freiburg on 30th/31st March 2023. Deadline for abstracts is 6 January 2023.

We would be grateful if you could forward the call to those colleagues who might be interested in the topic.

Best regards,

Mihai, Veronika and Nils

Call for Workshop Papers & Articles

Mere labels, racial concepts, or scientific methods? The politics, epistemologies and ethics of naming populations in the life sciences and beyond

The life sciences often think of human biological diversity in terms of differences and similarities between populations rather than between individuals. Accordingly, humans are divided into ancestral collectives whose membership is too a large extent unalterable and heritable. This transformation of individuals into populations has far reaching implications. Various studies have argued that positing such populations is hardly distinguishable from assuming the (pre-)existence of human races. Especially studies in medical, forensic and populations genetics have caused much debate about how far “genetic ancestry” falls back on racial concepts and how these involve and foster racism (e.g. Burmeister 2021; Fuentes, Bolnick & Watkins, 2019; Gannett 2014; Lewis et al. 2022, Lipphardt 2019; May 2018; M’charek 2022; Novembre 2022). At our workshop we would like to take this discussion further and discuss the role the naming of population plays before, during, and after the research process.

Possible questions include, but are not limited to:

• Under what circumstances are names merely (understood as) convenient labels and when/how do they introduce taking for granted epistemologies (assumptions, concepts, and methodologies)?

• Where can we see differences and continuities between historical and present scientific practices regarding the naming and classification of populations? How does changing terms shift the life sciences away from older conceptualizations? How, for instance, do different labels for the same group invoke different scientific meanings and practices?

• How are residual categories or “non-groups” (e.g. admixed populations) defined? How are categorical boundaries drawn and maintained? Race taxonomies, in this case, serve as a prominent, but by no means the only example (Bowker & Star 2000).

• Does a substitution of categories of race by rough geographical, national, linguistic, ethnical and religious descriptions (Panofsky and Bliss 2017; Byeon et al 2021) make a substantial difference in this field, or merely disguise the same problem in a new terminology?

• Is there a beneficial, non-racist use of categories of race in research, e.g. in order to address existing health inequalities (Ioannidis, Powe, Yancy 2021), or should they be avoided altogether?

• How are both scientific and social actors involved in the politics of naming populations? What about their interactions? How do, for instance, the self-understanding and status of social groups affect the scientific use of certain population names, and vice versa (Reardon 2005; Hacking 2007; Bourdieu 2018)?

We welcome contributions that outline the scientific concerns, negotiations and decisions the naming of populations is subject to, as well as the societal repercussion it has. We encourage the submission of papers that address the interrelated issues of politics, epistemologies and ethics in the use of population labels in life sciences and other disciplines broadly related to the questions and themes highlighted above. Applicants can submit abstracts (300 words) for papers that deal with one or all three aspects (politics, epistemologies, ethics) within the focus of this call. Deadline for abstracts is 6 January 2023.

We aim for the publication of the papers in an edited STS volume. Therefore, successful applicants should prepare to provide a short paper (3000 words) for discussion by 10th March 2023. Papers will be shared among all participants before the workshop taking place at the University of Freiburg (Germany) on 30th/31st March 2023.

Travel costs from European destinations (or similar) and accommodation in Freiburg will be covered for those presenting. If you are intending to participate from further away, please contact us soon and we will explore if we can contribute to your expenses.


• Deadline for abstracts: 6 January 2023 • Notification of acceptation/rejection: 15 January 2023 • Deadline for short papers: 10 March 2023 • Workshop in Freiburg: 30/31 March 2023 • Deadline for full papers: July 2023 • Review of full paper: ca. September 2023 • Revised manuscript: ca. December 2023 • Publication: ca. February 2024

The workshop is jointly organized by the Freiburg Network on Ethical, Legal and Social Aspects of Science and Technology (FELSA) and the SoSciBio (Human Diversity in the Life Sciences: Social and Scientific Effects of Biological Differentiations) research group.

Please send your abstracts to

Mihai Surdu Nils Ellebrecht Veronika Lipphardt


Bourdieu P. 2018. Classification struggles. Lectures at the Collège de France (1981-1982). Cambridge, UK, Medford, MA: Polity.

Bowker, G.C., and Susan L.S. 2000. Sorting things out: Classification and its consequences. MIT press.

Burmeister, S. 2021. Does the concept of genetic ancestry reinforce racism? A commentary on the discourse practice of archaeogenetics. TATuP-Zeitschrift für Technikfolgenabschätzung in Theorie und Praxis/Journal for Technology Assessment in Theory and Practice, 30(2): 41-46.

Byeon Y.J.J. et al. Evolving use of ancestry, ethnicity, and race in genetics research-A survey spanning seven decades. Am J Hum Genet. 2021; 108: 2215–23. doi: 10.1016/j.ajhg.2021.10.008.

Fuentes, A., Bolnick, D.A. and Watkins, R. 2019. Interpreting and communicating genetic variation in 2019: A conversation on race. Evolutionary Anthropology 28(3): 109-111.

Gannett, L. 2014. Biogeographical ancestry and race. Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part C: Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences, 47: 173-184.

Ioannidis, J.P., Powe, N.R. and Yancy, C. 2021. Recalibrating the use of race in medical research. Jama, 325(7): 623-624.

Lewis, A.C.F. et al. 2022. Getting genetic ancestry right for science and society. We must embrace a multidimensional, continuous view of ancestry and move away from continental ancestry categories, Science 376, 250-252.

Lipphardt, V., 2019. Über den allzu sorglosen Umgang mit population labels und sampling schemes. NTM Zeitschrift für Geschichte der Wissenschaften, Technik und Medizin, 27(2): 167-177.

M’charek, A., 2022. Race and sameness: on the limits of beyond race and the art of staying with the trouble." Comparative Migration Studies 10, no. 1 (2022): 1-16.

Novembre, J., 2022. The background and legacy of Lewontin's apportionment of human genetic diversity. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B, 377(1852), p.20200406

Panofsky, A. and Bliss, C.2017, Ambiguity and scientific authority: population classification in genomic science. American Sociological Review 82/1, 59-87.

Reardon, J. 2005 Race to the Finish: Identity and Governance in an Age of Genomics, Princeton University Press.

-- Dr. Nils Ellebrecht Department of Sociology / Centre for Security and Society Albert-Ludwigs-University Rempartstraße 15 D-79085 Freiburg im Breisgau

Office: Belfortstr. 16, 1. OG, Room 01008

Tel: +49 761 203 9394 Fax: +49 761 203 3493

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