The Informationalization of Race: Communication Technologies and the Human Genome in the Digital Age

Peter A. Chow-White


This paper suggests that a new form of racialization is being produced in the information age through developments and innovations in communication technologies. Increasingly, racial knowledge is being constructed from seemingly neutral and unrelated pieces of information, which are collected, sorted, and analyzed through two key technologies: databases and the Internet. I call this interaction between technology and identity the "informationalization of race." As a mode of representation, a structuring device, and as a biological category, race is undergoing a significant transformation in the digital age. I ground this concept in a case study of the next Human Genome Project — the HapMap Project — to understand how technologies are being shaped in a specific institutional setting. Advances in human genomics have recently re-invigorated scientific research into the relationship between race and biology. Where the HGP concluded that humanity is similar at the genetic level, the HapMap Project began by looking for differences between white, African, and Asian groups. It's anticipated that promising findings from the HapMap project will be of help in developing pharmaceuticals that can target common diseases, such as cancer. However, this development also opens the door to old biological conceptions of race and a new phase of the biopolitics of the human body.

Full Text: