Population and race are two different concepts

Population and race are two different concepts used in Anthropology to study variations in humankind. A group of individuals from the same biological species who have the capability and opportunity to interbreed frequently with each other can be termed as population. Whereas, race or racial classification method of studying biological variation using rigid and limited subspecies categories for distinction. Race as a concept uses few visible attributes as a measure of biological variation. It has been a popular process of classifying people however population as a measure is more fool proof. However, both these concepts are equally prevalent and used in anthropology.

Difference between the two concepts

Race is more of a folk concept where classifications are made on very few visible attributes from which a limited number of subspecies have been drawn out. Individuals are grouped into any one of these subspecies on the basis of their visible attributes. For example, a person can be grouped as a Negro or a Caucasian based on a few of his obvious characteristics. The subspecies used in anthropology on the basis of racial characteristics are limited and general and don't present detailed biological variation.

Population is more of a statistical term in anthropology; referring to units of people who can interbreed frequently and are separated from other units on the basis of both natural as well as manmade barriers. These barriers can be geographic like rivers (natural) or else religious and ethnic marriage obligations (manmade). Thus, the concept of population in anthropology allows a large number of units to be defined when studying biological variation. It measures variability within the group/ units itself as well as variations between different groups/units.

An example to explain the distinction between using population and race as a measure: Race will classify Africans and African-Americans as Negro or Black focusing on the few visible characteristics. Whereas, population as a measure would distinct these two categories as they live far away from each other and have little or no possible chance of interbreeding. Moreover, the population measure would further divide the African-Americans into different groups on the basis of their language and cultural values.

The difference in their approaches provides both measures with certain advantages and certain limitations. The first disadvantage of race as a measure is that it lacks concrete scientific proof on its theories of dividing humans into a few sub species. The next limitation of racial classification is that it differs from society to society in terms of defining different sub species. Therefore, since racial classifications have no scientific proof, it is not an adequate model in explaining human variation; whereas, population as a measure provides a better analytical framework to measure variations in humans. Moreover, world-wide diversity in human biology cannot be understood in terms of a small finite number of racial categories.

Advantages of using population as a measure it helps chart and explain various physical variations amongst humans. Moreover, population can be used to investigate different trends of evolution and mutation.
Measurement and recording of different traits and their distribution in population measure helps in analyzing and comparing different units of population. However, one limitation of this measure is that it does not yield a direct representation of the actual genetics of the group.

Thus, both population and race as measures of diversity have very different concepts. Since anthropology asks for specific scientific proof, population as a measure stands a better chance at being more appropriate than the other.


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