The 86th Annual Meeting of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists (2017)

How subjectivity strengthens research: Developing new approaches to anthropological genetics in the Pacific Northwest


1Department of Anthropology, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, 2Carl R. Woese Institute for Genomic Biology, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

April 21, 2017 3:15, Riverview 1 Add to calendar

Scientific fields, including biological anthropology, are often framed by Western academia as conducting objective research. In fact, this is a core tenant of the scientific process: good science achieves experimental results that are replicable by any researcher. However, the assumption that science is, or can be, objective is flawed and overlooks the significant contributions that can be made by embracing the inherent subjectivity introduced by the perspective of the researcher. In biological anthropology and beyond, the values of the researcher influence the entirety of the scientific process, from the research questions asked to methods used. This presentation provides an example of how research in biological anthropology can be strengthened through the uniqueness of researchers’ connections to or interactions with the communities or populations they study. We discuss examples of how, when conducting genomic research with indigenous communities (living and ancient) from the Pacific Northwest coast, we employed methods and analyses such as incorporating oral history and community knowledge into interpretations of genomic data, utilizing less destructive methods of ancient DNA analysis, and advocating for and incorporating community consultation and engagement in paleogenomic research. This presentation demonstrates how, in research, embracing the subjectivity and wealth of new research perspectives that academics with diverse backgrounds bring to biological anthropology will enhance the depth of knowledge in our field.

Funding provided by the Office of the Vice Chancellor for Research, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign