chapter  6
54 Pages

The ABO blood groups: mapping the history and geography of genes in Homo sapiens


The ABO blood groups, and other blood group systems as they were discovered, provided an empirical foundation for human genetics research during the first half of the twentieth century. However, the legacy of the ABO blood group research is a matter of some debate, a debate that has emerged recently as a result of controversy surrounding the Human Genome Diversity Project (HGDP). HGDP proponents such as L. Luca Cavalli-Sforza and Mark Stoneking tend to regard the ABO blood group research as foundational to the discipline of anthropological genetics and the study of human genome diversity. Critics of the HGDP such as Jonathan Marks tend to view the ABO blood group work as marginal, in several ways: as scientifically suspect, as negative in its influence, as outdated, and even as racist. The controversy surrounding the HGDP heightens disciplinary tensions that preceded it, between geneticists, physical-biological anthropologists, and social-cultural anthropologists. Yet, the debate raises a number of methodological and conceptual issues concerning the investigation of human genome diversity, issues too important to allow these disciplinary maneuverings to obscure. The methodological and conceptual issues we focus on here concern classification: relations between a priori and a posteriori groupings in classification, intersections and tensions between social-political and biological-anthropological categories of classification, the privileging of genetic over traditional anthropological traits in classification, and “racial” classification.