Race in Sociology

Characteristics, Types and Theories of Race in Sociology

What is Race in Sociology/Anthropology?

According to Horton & Hunt, "A race is a group of people somewhat different from other groups in  its combination of inherited physical characteristics, but the race is also substantially determined by popular social definition."

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A race is a group of people thought to share specific distinctive physical characteristics, such as facial structure or skin colour. Racial factors are biologically inherited (unlike ethnic and cultural features). Sociologists use the concept of race to describe how people think of and treat groups of people, as people very commonly classify each other according to race (for example, as black or Asian). Most sociologists believe that race is not real because there are no distinctive genetic or physical characteristics that truly distinguish one group of people from another; instead, different groups share overlapping characteristics. The belief that different races can lead to racism potentially leads to inequality among other groups of people.



Sociologists define race as a concept used to signify different types of human bodies. While there is no biological basis for racial classification, sociologists recognize a long history of attempts to organize groups of people based on similar skin colour and physical appearance. The absence of any biological foundation makes race often challenging to define and classify. Sociologists view racial categories and the significance of race in society as unstable, ever-shifting, and intimately connected to other social forces and structures.


Sociologists emphasize that while race is not a concrete, fixed thing essential to human bodies, it is much more than simply an illusion. While it is socially constructed through human interaction and relationships between people and institutions, race is very real in its consequences as a social force.



The term race refers to groups of people who have differences and similarities in biological traits deemed by society to be socially significant, meaning that people treat other people differently because of them. For instance, while differences and similarities in eye colour have not been treated as socially substantial, differences and similarities in skin colour have.


Although some scholars have attempted to establish dozens of racial groupings for the world's peoples, others have suggested four or five. An example of a racial category is Asian (or Mongoloid), with associated facial, hair colour, and body type features. Yet too many exceptions to this sort of racial grouping have made any racial categorizations truly viable. This fact has led many sociologists to indicate that no clearcut races existonly assorted physical and genetic variations across human individuals and groups. 



Certainly, obvious physical differences exist between humans, some of which are inherited. But how these variations form the basis for social prejudice and discrimination has nothing to do with genetics but is a social phenomenon related to outward appearances. 

Racism, then, is prejudice based on socially significant physical features. A racist believes that certain people are superior or inferior to others despite racial differences. Racists approve of segregation or the social and physical separation of classes of people.


The race is defined as a category or group of people having hereditary traits that set them apart. While race revolves around the idea of biological traits, ethnicity is based on a shared cultural heritage. Sociologists and other social scientists believe that race is a socially constructed concept. It is an idea that was created in society to justify inequality.



5 Conditions/Features of Race

The concept of race has historically signified the division of humanity into a small number of groups based upon five criteria:


(1) Races reflect some type of biological foundation, be it Aristotelian essences or modern genes;


(2) This biological foundation generates discrete racial groupings, such that all and only all members of one race share a set of biological characteristics that are not shared by members of other races;


(3) This biological foundation is inherited from generation to generation, allowing observers to identify an individual's race through her ancestry or genealogy;


 (4) Genealogical investigation should identify each race's geographic origin, typically in Africa, Europe, Asia, or North and South America; and


 (5) This inherited racial biological foundation manifests primarily in physical phenotypes, such as skin colour, eye shape, hair texture, bone structure, and perhaps also behavioural phenotypes, such as intelligence or delinquency.



This historical concept of race has faced substantial scientific and philosophical challenges, with some important thinkers denying both the logical coherence of the concept and the very existence of races. Others defend the concept of race, albeit with substantial changes to the foundations of racial identity, which they depict as either socially constructed or, if biologically grounded, neither discrete nor essentialist, as the historical concept would have it.


The race is a modern concept. People were more likely to be divided according to religion, language, lineage, and nationality in ancient times. In ancient Greece, for instance, people were divided by language and culture rather than physical differences. Africans, who may have looked different physically, were accepted into their society as long as they adopted the customs and language of Greek culture. So, where exactly does the idea of race originate? In the 16th century, Europeans used three different categories to classify the other groups of people they encountered through continental exploration. The racial categories used at this time were: Mongoloid (Asians), Caucasoid (European) and Negroid (African). Throughout the centuries to follow, the concept of race was used to justify superiority and colonization.


What is an Ethnic Group?

Ethnicity refers to shared cultural practices, perspectives, and distinctions that set one group of people apart from another. That is, ethnicity is a shared cultural heritage. The most common characteristics distinguishing various ethnic groups are ancestry, a sense of history, language, religion, and dress forms. Ethnic differences are not inherited; they are learned.


Most countries today consist of different ethnic groups. Ideally, countries strive for pluralism, where people of all ethnicities and races remain distinct but have social equality. For example, the United States is exceptionally diverse, with people representing groups from all over the globe but lacking in true pluralism. The same can be said of the ethnic diversity of the former Soviet Union with its more than 100 ethnic groups, some having more than a million members.


What is a Minority Group?


minority group refers to a category of people differentiated from the social majority, those who hold the majority of positions of social power in a society, and it may be defined by law. Rather than a relational "social group", as the term would indicate, "minority group" refers to the above-described. The differentiation can be based on observable human characteristics, including ethnicity, race, religion, caste, gender, wealth, health or sexual orientation. Usage of the term is applied to various situations and civilizations within history despite its popular disassociation with a numerical, statistical minority. In the social sciences, the term "minority" refers to categories of persons who hold fewer positions of social power.



The term "minority group" often occurs alongside civil rights and collective rights discourse, which gained prominence in the 20th century. Members of minority groups are prone to different treatment in the countries and societies in which they live.


The discrimination may be directly based on an individual's perceived membership of a minority group, without consideration of that individual's personal achievement. It may also occur indirectly by social structures that are not equally accessible to all. Activists campaigning on a range of issues may use the language of minority rights, including student rights, consumer rights, and animal rights.


7 Types of Races in the World

Race has been used in different contexts, cultures, traditions, languages and nationalities. There has been some difference of opinion regarding the origin of other races. One school of thought argues that racial differences existed initially, while another believes that different races developed from one ancestral species.

The scientific classification of human racial types is based on specific combinations of fixed, inherited, as far possible measurable and visually identifiable traits, such as head shape, facial features, nose shape, eye shape and colour, skin colour, stature, and blood group etc. These traits represent morphological, biological and genetic aspects. With more and more features, the number of combinations increases and the analysis becomes more complex.


There is no single way of classifying mankind into biological races. Physical characteristics, such as skin colour and hair type, were used to delineate three to five biological races (Caucasoid, Negroid and Mongoloid and later, Australoid and American Indian).

More subtle techniques, including blood types and hereditary diseases and terrain barriers, result in classifications that may include as many as eight or nine geographical races. Although a difference of opinion exists regarding terminology and the exact type, the following divisions are generally accepted:

1)  Caucasoid (European)

2)  Negroid (African)

3)  Mongoloid (Asiatic or Oriental)

4)  Indie (Hindu)

5)  Australoid (Australian aboriginals)

6) Polynesians/Melanesian/Micronesian (some­times, these three are classified as Oceanic)

7)  American Indian.

Generally speaking, these races' spatial distribution and concentration are—Caucasoids in Europe, Mongoloids in Asia, and Negroids in Africa. But these races are not limited, in spatial extent, to these areas only. For instance, the Caucasoids race is also found along the northern belt of Africa, Turkey and from Iran to Baluchistan and India.


The Mongoloid race is mainly found in the central, eastern and south-eastern parts of Asia and the western parts of the Americas (Red Indians etc.), Arctic region (Eskimos in Canada, Greenland and Yakuts in Siberia).

In other words, the Mongoloids are clustered around the Pacific and the Arctic Oceans. The Negroids are mainly concentrated in the south of the Sahara desert in Africa, but they are also found in Indonesia (pygmy group), Papua New Guinea and Melanesia. The Australoids, a mixture of Negroids and Dravidians (south India), are primarily concentrated in Australia, especially north and west.


Physical Characteristics of Major Racial Groups

There are major nine elements to identify a race in the world, and these are discussed in the following: 

1. Skin Colour: The Caucasoid have pale reddish white to olive-brown skin colour. Among the Mongoloids, the skin colour ranges from saffron to yellow-brown, while some individuals have a reddish-brown skin colour. The Negroids have brown to brown-black or yellow-brown skin colour.

2. Head Form: Among the Caucasoids, the head is generally long to broad and short and medium-high to very high. Among the Mongoloids, the charge is predominantly comprehensive and medium-high, while it is primarily long and low to medium-high among Negroids.

3. Stature: The Caucasoids have a medium to tall stature, while the Mongoloids are medium tall to medium short and Negroids, tall to very short.

4. Face: It is narrow to medium broad and tends to be high with no prognathism among the Caucasoids. Among the Mongoloids, it is medium broad to very broad and medium-high. The face is broad to narrow and tends towards medium-high with strong prognathism among Negroids.

5. Hair: Among the Caucasoids, hair colour is light brown to dark brown, the texture is fine to medium, and the form is straight to wavy. The body hair among the Caucasoids is moderate to profuse. Among the Mongoloids, the hair colour is brown to brown-black, the texture is coarse, the form is straight, and the body hair is sparse. Among the Negroids, hair colour is brown-black, the texture is rough, form is woolly or grizzly, and body hair light.

6. Eye: The colour of eyes, among the Caucasoids, is light blue to dark brown, while the lateral eye-fold is occasional. Among the Mongoloids, the eye colour is brown to dark brown, and the medial epicanthic fold is very common. Among the Negroids, eye colour is brown to brown-black, and vertical eye-fold is common.

7. Nose: Among the Caucasoids, the nasal bridge is usually high, and the form is narrow to medium broad. The nasal bridge, among the Mongoloids, is typically low to medium and forms medium-wide. Among the Negroids, the nasal bridge is usually low, and the form is medium-wide to very broad.

8. Body Shape: Among the Caucasoids, it is linear to lateral and slender to rugged. Among the Mongoloids, it tends to be lateral with some linearity, and among the Negroids, the body shape is lateral and muscular.

9. Blood Group: Among the Caucasoids, A's frequency is more than B's, while the Mongoloids have more B than A, and the Negroids have both A and B.


Racial Characteristics of Bangladeshi People

Anthropologists agree that Bangladesh has historically been a land of many races. Long before the arrival of the Aryans in the 5th and 6th centuries B.C., the Bangalees were already racially mixed. It is said that the origin of human beings in Africa, but some of them first moved into the northern part of the Middle East and then dispersed across the world.

The groups of the people who went to South-East Asia had crossed the land of Bangladesh more than fifty thousand years ago. These people developed languages known as Austric Languages with their name Austric or Austro-Asiatic people. These people entered Bangladesh several thousand years ago from South-East Asia. Near about the same time or later, some other people, whom we now classify as Mongoloid, also entered the territories of Bangladesh from the East and spread mainly into the uplands and hilly areas.


Bangladesh is a melting pot of ancient peoples. Different races and immigrants gradually added to the earlier stocks. The main peopling of this land was by those from the Southern and western parts of South-Asia, known as Dravidians. They were physically diverse people speaking different languages, known as a Dravidian family of languages. It is to be noted that the Dravidian language speakers mainly were a Caucasoid people, which means in terms of hair form and other physical features, they resemble the people of the Middle East more than they reach the people of East Asia. However, they are generally darker than the different peoples to the East and West of South Asia.


The latest arrivals were a people well known as the Aryans. They spoke a language of the Indo-European family of languages, and they are said to have originated from the Northern parts of the Middle East and the Eastern parts of Europe. Over the centuries, they mixed with the Dravidians. They moved into the Bengal Basin sometimes after 600 B. C. They, in turn, combined with the Austric and Mongoloid peoples already in Bangladesh and produced the physical types which are so common nowadays. Later other immigrants-Arabs, Turks and Pathans, also came to this land. These people, too, added their physical stock to the melting-pot so that today we have a great variety of physical features in Bangladesh. Therefore, the Bengali ancestry includes the Austric-speakers, the Mongoloids, the Dravidians, the Aryans, the Arabs, and the Turks and Pathans. Within the polity of Bangladesh, there are also some groups of people, known as tribal people, who retain their distinct cultural entities and have not merged into the mainstream of Bangla- Speaking groups.


Major Races/Racial groups of Bangladesh

1. Negrito
2. Proto Australoids or Austrics
3. Mongoloids
4.Mediterranean or Dravidian
5.Western Brachycephals
6. Nordic Aryans

Social Race Theories: Monogenism & Polygenism

There are two prominent theories relating to the origin of Race. These are

1.       Theory of Monogenism
2.       Theory of Polygenism

What is Monogenism (Theory)

Monogenism, or sometimes monogenesis, is the theory of human origins that posits a common descent for all human races. The negation of monogenism is polygenism. This issue was hotly debated in the Western world in the nineteenth century, as the assumptions of scientific racism came under scrutiny both from religious groups and in the light of developments in the life sciences and human science. It was integral to early conceptions of ethnology.
Modern scientific views favour this theory, with the most widely accepted model for human origins being the "Out of Africa" theory.

a) Monogenetic Theories (single-origin theories)

b) Monogenetic theories assume monogenesis, hence the name. It is argued that there is a single origin of European-based pidgins and creoles.


Monogenesis and Relexification (Theory)

Monogenetic approaches explain the structural similarities between most European-based pidgins (and creoles) with a common origin. According to monogenetic theories, all pidgins have a proto-pidgin common origin. Thus, pidgins are genetically related and descent from a common ancestor.

A fifteenth-century Portuguese-based pidgin in West Africa (WAPP) was established as the proto-pidgin. It functions similar to a late version of the medieval Mediterranean Lingua Franca called Sabir.


According to the theory of monogenesis, WAPP (West African Pidgin Portuguese) was carried around the world in the course of European colonization and, consequently, gave rise to pidgins (and later creoles) in many places. These pidgins and creoles all retained particular structural features, including lexical remnants of the Portuguese-based proto-pidgin.

An essential component of the monogenesis theory is relexification. Relexification explains the linguistic differences between pidgins and creoles, as they are historically related and derive from a common origin in WAPP. The term 'relexification' means the total or near-total replacement of the vocabulary of a particular language by vocabulary from another language.


Thus, if relexification is assumed, when WAPP was carried around the world, and its speakers came into contact with different groups of European colonizers – English, Spanish, Dutch and French - it was adopted by these colonizers by process of relexification. Thus, WAPP was relexified and influenced by the particular European colonizer's language with which it was in contact. It gave rise to different European-based pidgins and creoles over time.

While the lexicon changed and Portuguese words were replaced by words from other European colonizers' languages, the basic grammatical structure of WAPP was retained. According to the monogenesis theory, this is the structural similarities between pidgins and creoles, which have different lexifier languages.


Problems in Monogenesis Theory

The theory of monogenesis does not consider the development of all pidgins and creoles worldwide. It only focuses on European-based pidgins and creoles that originated from WAPP. However, pidgins and creoles developed without European connections (e.g. several African or Asian pidgins). These contact languages also show basic structural similarities.

Consequently, although monogenesis assumes relexification, which may be an appropriate explanation for all European-based pidgins and creoles, it cannot account for the structural similarities between pidgins and creoles worldwide.

A more general theory of genesis, thus, should cover all cases of pidginization. Such a theory then must be a polygenetic one that assumes multiple independent origins for the contact languages of the world.


Factors affecting Monogenesis Theory

1.     Influence of Geographical Factors
2.     Influence of Natural and social isolation
3.     Influence of Cross-breeding
4.     Influence of Mutation
5.     Influence of Natural Selection
6.     Influence of Socio-Economic Factors


Polygenesis (Theory)

Polygenesis refers to the idea that human beings originate not from a single common origin but from several separate lines of descent. It exists in two forms, creationist and evolutionist, although it is not a popular view among either school of thought. The opposite position is known as monogenesis

Creationist polygenesis claims that God did not create just a single first couple, Adam and Eve, from whom all humanity is descended, but rather many first couples. However, this contradicts many verses in the Bible that say all humanity is descended from Adam and Eve.

One form of this theory is pre-Adamism: God created other human beings before Adam and Eve. The usual interpretation is that the creation of humans in Genesis 1 and Genesis 2 are two different accounts of the same event; by contrast, the Pre-Adamite understanding is that Genesis 1 refers to a separate earlier creation of human beings before Adam's creation in Genesis 2.

Another form of this theory is co-Adamism: God created other human beings simultaneously as Adam and Eve, rather than before them. Variations of this theory were popular among ancient Pagan thinkers, especially when the need came to respond to the Christian account of creation. It has also been favoured by several 20th-century occult writers.

Pre-Adamism and co-Adamism have the advantage that they avoid the need for incestuous pairings in the first generation after Adam and Eve; on the other hand, they contradict many parts of the Bible. They also have often been interpreted in a racist manner - e.g., claiming that only a particular race or races (predominantly Caucasian) were descended from Adam and Eve, and the rest belong to another inferior creation. Since Romans 5 argues that Christ came as a saviour to do right what Adam had been done wrong, this view then implies that Jesus only came to save Adam and Eve's descendants, and thus other races cannot be held. But, although pre-Adamism and co-Adamism have often been used to justify racism, it is possible to give these views a non-racist interpretation.

And according to modern polygenesis theory, the primary four races come from different ancestors, such as :

a) Caucasoid  Race from Cro-magnon

b) Mongoloid Race  from Peking man

c) Astraloid Race from Java man

d) Negro Race comes from Rhodesian man


Evolutionist Polygenesis (Theory)

Evolutionary theory is inherently polygenetic because it sees the evolution of one species out of another usually taking place within a defined population rather than a single pair of individuals. But the term polygenesis has been used to refer to the idea that humans evolved separately from several separate ancestor species rather than out of one single ancestor species - for example, different human races might have evolved out of several separate species apes rather than a single species of apes. Although it has had its advocates, that view is rejected by modern evolutionary theory. In the past Likewise, this view has been used to try to justify racial supremacism, but at the same time, it can be adopted in non-racist forms.


Linguistic Monogenesis vs. Polygenesis

In linguistics, monogenesis vs polygenesis concerns whether there was a single original language spoken by all humankind; or if there were multiple original languages spoken by different subsets of humanity. This is the argument about whether language evolved once or on numerous separate occasions in evolutionary terms. It is a particular question from the evolution of the underlying species. In creationist times, it is believed that Adam spoke an original language, which later developed in different directions - greatly helped along by divine intervention at BabelOn the other hand, a polygenist creationist may believe that the original humans' separate creation corresponded to a different original language.

In Jewish thought, the traditional belief is that the language of Adam was Hebrew - although that differs from the views of contemporary linguistics, which sees Hebrew evolving out of a Proto-Afro-Asiatic language which was also the common ancestor of other languages such as ArabicAramaicancient EgyptianCopticAkkadian, and the various Ethiopic languages. Others have suggested the Adamic language was different from Hebrew. Some other language was lost - Joseph Smith, the founder of Mormonism, claimed to have been given some knowledge of this language by divine revelation.


Linguistic polygenesis would contradict controversially hypothesizes that claim that all the world's major language families originate from one common original language, such as Nostratic. However, most linguists who criticize these theories do so not from any commitment to linguistic polygenism but simply on the basis that there is a lack of evidence to support them - even if all human languages descend from a common origin, critics of these hypothesizes they believe that knowledge of it has been lost to the mists of time, and cannot be reconstructed.

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