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

Marginal perspectives within hegemonic spaces: the marronage of genomic technologies


Anthropology, Vanderbilt University

April 21, 2017 3:30, Riverview 1 Add to calendar

Genetic ancestry technologies advance our understanding of human evolution and biology, yet among the social sciences, the relationship between social and biological identities remains ambiguous and contested. In particular, social scientists argue that uncritical uses of genetic ancestry technologies reifies biological concepts of race. Furthermore, despite an increasing reliance on genetic ancestry techniques within biomedicine and direct-to-consumer testing companies, there has not been a robust movement within the social sciences that re-evaluates ideas about the relationship between race and contemporary genetics. Additionally, some genetic ancestry testing critics have warned against the proliferation of genetic techniques in lieu of methods that account for sociocultural factors that underlie health disparities. These critiques, in effect, isolate genetic ancestry technologies aligning them with contemporary iterations of scientific racism. Meanwhile, other researchers laud these same techniques for the potential to displace hegemonic narratives regarding marginalized communities as well as advance understandings about health disparities. To complicate issues further, very little academic research is available that explicitly studies how people’s core ideas about race are altered (or not) by genetic ancestry data thereby bringing in to question claims about the effect of genetic technologies on popular perceptions of race.

Due to the inter-relatedness between genetics and environment, inclusive of sociocultural elements, it is important not to put genetic and social approaches in opposition, let alone privileging one over the other. Rather, educators and researchers should adopt a more nuanced understanding of human genetic diversity that is firmly situated within appropriate bio- and socio-cultural contexts.