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  Although its value as a scientific concept has long since been repudiated (e.g. Gould, 1984), the idea of race continues to be employed as a popular (and sometimes as a social scientific) marker of human difference, based on physical criteria such as skin colour, nose shape and type of hair. Coming into English usage in the sixteenth century, race took on its current problematic range of meanings in the nineteenth century, when writers such as Thomas de Gobineau began to confuse classifications of human beings based on physical criteria with value judgements about social status and moral worth. Further confusions followed from debates about Social Darwinism in which the idea of human evolution as a competitive struggle was extended from the biological realm (where it referred to relations between species) to the sociological realm (where it was held to apply to relations within a single species, homo sapiens). Ideas of racial superiority (and their discriminatory consequences) quickly followed, paralleling Europe\'s imperial expansion overseas (cf. imperialism).

The belief that human beings can be readily divided into a series of discrete races is now widely regarded as fallacious (though attempts to reinstate the biological basis of human difference occasionally resurface, e.g. Hernstein and Murray, 1994). Instead, races are now widely regarded as a political and social construction rather than a biological fact, the product of racism rather than of human genetics (Jackson and Penrose, 1993). Racial ideologies have underpinned some of the most repressive political regimes of the twentieth century including Nazism and apartheid (Smith, 1992; Robinson, 1995). In recent years, geographers have turned from mapping and measuring patterns of ethnic and racial segregation, to investigating (spatially and temporally specific) processes of racialization (Bonnett, 1996). Attention now also focuses on constructions of \'whiteness\' as well as on the social geographies of so-called \'minority\' groups. (See also hybridity; social exclusion.) (PAJ)

References Bonnett, A. 1996: Constructions of \'race\', place and discipline: geographies of \'racial\' identity and racism. Ethnic and Racial Studies 19: 864-83. Gould, S.J. 1984: The mismeasure of man. London: Penguin. Hernstein, R.J. and Murray, C. 1994: The bell curve: intelligence and class structure in American life. New York: Free Press. Jackson, P. and Penrose, J., eds, 1993: Constructions of race, place and nation. London: UCL Press. Robinson, J. 1995: The power of apartheid. London: Butterworth-Heinemann. Smith, D.M., ed., 1992: The apartheid city and beyond. London: Routledge.



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