Getting into the habit: using historical science to understand race in contemporary schools.


Most historical analyses of the scientific study of race focus on the surface level physical features of differing bodies. They fail to consider the scientific and popular accounts of racialized bodies as engaged in routine activity, thereby overlooking corporeal habits as the key historical tenet of the construction of scientific racial categorization. This paper traces the study of race via habits through modern science and attempts to reconcile this approach to understanding race with contemporary popular notions that uphold the lived experience of race and conflicting genetic accounts that debunk racial distinction. Moreover, the paper explores habits of discerning and living race that are cultivated in schools and through popular culture. Offering a pragmatist and poststructuralist theoretical analysis of habit as socially and biologically co‐constituted, this paper argues that habits should overtly occupy the minds of scientists, social constructionists, and teachers as they enact and respond to race. It urges these scholars and social activists to move beyond the claim that race is a social construction to understanding the historical intention of the construct and its link to racism. Finally, this paper considers how students in schools learn both to detect and embody race via habits and calls for making those habits more flexible as a way to promote a positive future for living and responding to race.



Publication Date

Fall 2009

Journal Title

Race, Ethnicity and Education


Taylor & Francis

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)


Document Type