Race as technology and the carceral methodologies of molecular racialization

St Louis, Brett. 2022. Race as technology and the carceral methodologies of molecular racialization. The British Journal of Sociology, 73(1), pp. 206-219. ISSN 0007-1315 [Article]

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Abstract or Description

This article counters the view (albeit contested) of race as a natural empirical object with technology as a secondary, external entity applied to it. Instead, I posit race itself as a technology that is inherently discriminatory in motivation, design and function, as evident throughout its brutally effective history. Focusing on the post/genomic era, I consider contemporary forms of molecular racialization as the latest technological iteration of race as a disciplinary device. I characterise this biopolitical racial technology as operant through a carceral methodology in four stages: 1) the epistemological mutability of molecular racialization as reiterating the obscurantist claim of modern raciology to constitute a benign description of literal racial difference; 2) the ontological de-individualization of certain racial others as aggregated risky populations and legitimate targets of repressive management; 3) a predictive empiricism whereby molecular race is seen as indicative of potential behaviours that sanctions oppressive state interventions against specific populations; 4) a normative bioethical dissembling whereby state agencies’ exploitation of target molecular racialized populations’ vulnerabilities result in the debarment of proper ethical consideration and the right to justice. Drawing largely on criminal justice and immigration control examples, the article argues against notions of function creep and asserts that the carceral methodologies of molecular racialization demonstrate race as a repressive technology designed to (re)produce subaltern racial populations and propagate racism.

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Additional Information:

A draft of this article was presented to the Culture, Medicine and Power Conversations group at King's College London. I would like to thank the participants for their comments and suggestions.

Data Availability Statement: All data used in the article are publicly available.


Racial science; racism; racial profiling; DNA phenotyping; molecular photofitting; bioethics

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6 December 2021Accepted
24 December 2021Published Online
22 January 2022Published

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Date Deposited:

19 Oct 2022 10:23

Last Modified:

24 Dec 2023 02:28

Peer Reviewed:

Yes, this version has been peer-reviewed.



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