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Brown Skins, White Coats

Race Science in India, 1920–66

A unique narrative structure brings the history of race science in mid-twentieth-century India to vivid life.

There has been a recent explosion in studies of race science in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, but most have focused either on Europe or on North America and Australia. In this stirring history, Projit Bihari Mukharji illustrates how India appropriated and repurposed race science to its own ends and argues that these appropriations need to be understood within the national and regional contexts of postcolonial nation-making—not merely as footnotes to a Western history of “normal science.”
The book comprises seven factual chapters operating at distinct levels—conceptual, practical, and cosmological—and eight fictive interchapters, a series of epistolary exchanges between the Bengali author Hemendrakumar Ray (1888–1963) and the protagonist of his dystopian science fiction novel about race, race science, racial improvement, and dehumanization. In this way, Mukharji fills out the historical moment in which the factual narrative unfolded, vividly revealing its moral, affective, political, and intellectual fissures.

360 pages | 20 halftones | 6 x 9 | © 2022

Asian Studies: South Asia

History: History of Technology

History of Science



“Race science enjoyed a prestigious place in Indian academic life in the twentieth century. Mukharji’s book is a startling revelation of how leading Indian anthropologists and statisticians used serological techniques to study caste. This is the forgotten story of Indian eugenics in the service of national development.”

Partha Chatterjee, Columbia University

“Mukharji’s Brown Skins, White Coats is a brilliant book, absorbing to read and brimming with lyrical insight about the vexed history of global racial science, identity, nationalism, and alienation. The book offers a masterful, often poetic journey into the ever-shifting practices of racial scientists striving relentlessly to weave notions of skin, blood, caste, tissues, disease, and belief into a potent yet illusory science of Indian identity, whiteness, and biologized difference. A captivating, pathbreaking new work in race studies and science studies.”

Keith Wailoo, Princeton University

Brown Skins, White Coats is the most innovative and engaging book I have read on the fraught relationship between race and genetics. Combining rigorous historical research with compelling fictional interludes, Mukharji recalls India’s forgotten history of seroanthropology, a form of race science that links colonial anthropometry to contemporary genomics. A must-read for area studies and history of science alike, Mukharji’s book skillfully shows how the underappreciated contributions of Indian scientists to global human genetics also reinforced essentialist and often discriminatory narratives of racial difference within South Asia.”

Elise K. Burton, University of Toronto

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations
Parable of Brownness
An Advertisement for White Coats
Interchapter: Letter 1
1: Seroanthropological Races
Interchapter: Letter 2
2: Mendelizing Religion
Interchapter: Letter 3
3: A Taste for Race
Interchapter: Letter 4
4: Medicalizing Race
Interchapter: Letter 5
5: Blood Multiple
Interchapter: Letter 6
6: Refusing Race
Interchapter: Letter 7
7: Racing the Future
Interchapter: Letter 8
Sources for Interchapters

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