Race in the Making

From Learning, Development, and Conceptual Change

Race in the Making

Cognition, Culture, and the Child's Construction of Human Kinds

By Lawrence A. Hirschfeld

A Bradford Book





Race in the Making provides a new understanding of how people conceptualize social categories and shows why this knowledge is so readily recruited to create and maintain systems of unequal power.

Hirschfeld argues that knowledge of race is not derived from observations of physical difference nor does it develop in the same way as knowledge of other social categories. Instead, his central claim is that racial thinking is the product of a special-purpose cognitive competence for understanding and representing human kinds. The book also challenges the conventional wisdom that race is purely a social construction by demonstrating that a common set of abstract principles underlies all systems of racial thinking, whatever other historical and cultural specificities may be associated with them.

Starting from the commonplace observation that race is a category of both power and the mind, Race in the Making directly tackles this issue. Through a sustained exploration of continuity and change in the child's notion of race and across historical variations in the race concept, Hirschfeld shows that a singular commonsense theory about human kinds constrains the way racial thinking changes, whether in historical time or during childhood.

After surveying the literature on the development of a cultural psychology of race, Hirschfeld presents original studies that examine children's (and occasionally adults') representations of race. He sketches how a jointly cultural and psychological approach to race might proceed, showing how this approach yields new insights into the emergence and elaboration of racial thinking.


Out of Print ISBN: 9780262082471 248 pp. | 6 in x 9 in


$30.00 X ISBN: 9780262581721 248 pp. | 6 in x 9 in


  • Given the growing interest in the interface between the cognitive and the social sciences, and Lawrence Hirschfeld's uniquely serious and indeed deep understanding of the problems at this interface, given the importance of his chosen topic, and the richness of his positive contribution, I have no doubt that this book will be recognized as a landmark.

    Dan Sperber

    Directeur de Recherche au Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique

  • Hirschfeld's book, Race in the Making is interdisciplinary research at its finest. Hirschfeld reviews for psychologists the historical 'social construction' views of race prevalent in the social sciences, and to anthropologists, historians, and sociologists, he reviews the 'race as independent variable' treatment prevalent in psychology. His own brilliant resolution of the limitations of both of these approaches is a major contribution to our understanding of social cognition and of cognitive development.

    Susan Carey

    Professor of Psychology, MIT

  • Hirschfeld's book represents cognitive sceince at its best... insightful, provocative, and very relevant.

    Douglas Medin

    Professor of Psychology, Northwestern University

  • [S]tartling, subtle and challenging.... Hirschfeld's book has the great merit of suggesting a beginning for a real discipline that might replace 5,000 years of futile platitudes about why it is that We hate Them.

    David Berreby

    The Sciences