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Unformatted text preview: of attributes selected from an infinite list. In other words the body is discursively constructed for a purpose, and there are as many constructions as there are purposes. Imagine that of all the possible attributes of the body we select “race” as a point of focus. Next we have the question of scaling—how do we decide what race a particular body belongs to? Consider the proposition, “The man is black.” It seems a simple statement, but how do we decide what makes a man “black?” Will that depend on skin color? In the US there was, of course, a historical practice called the “the one‐drop rule” where a person with a white skin would be considered “black” if there was “one drop” of blood of African ancestry. Today the racial categories of the US Census follow a social definition rather than a biological or genetic definition; individuals are permitted to select their own racial category, and they can report more than one category. Of course we know that a person’s skin color does not describe something fundamental or essential about that person. The statement represents a discursive construction of a particular human body relative to the powerful and multiple discourses of race in our society. These constructivist claims I have made about the body are true for all objects of scientific inquiry. From an infinite number of attributes, we select certain elements; this is a natural and essential process—without the ability to select certain attributes and ignore others, conversation of any sort would be impossible. The claim of discourse theory is simply that what we select, what we ignore, and how we scale are all shaped by human decisions, and certainly cast doubt on the scientific claim to rational, objective knowledge free from discourse. As another example of discursive selection consider the maps of two geographies of poverty. Figure 1A shows the distribution of rates of poverty by census tracts in Philadelphia. This, of course, is the standard map of poverty in which poverty is highly correlated to distributions of unemployment and...
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