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Identity Politics and the New Genetics

Identity Politics and the New Genetics: Re/Creating Categories of Difference and Belonging

Katharina Schramm
David Skinner
Richard Rottenburg
Copyright Date: 2012
Edition: 1
Published by: Berghahn Books
Pages: 226
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  • Book Info
    Identity Politics and the New Genetics
    Book Description:

    Racial and ethnic categories have appeared in recent scientific work in novel ways and in relation to a variety of disciplines: medicine, forensics, population genetics and also developments in popular genealogy. Once again, biology is foregrounded in the discussion of human identity. Of particular importance is the preoccupation with origins and personal discovery and the increasing use of racial and ethnic categories in social policy. This new genetic knowledge, expressed in technology and practice, has the potential to disrupt how race and ethnicity are debated, managed and lived. As such, this volume investigates the ways in which existing social categories are both maintained and transformed at the intersection of the natural (sciences) and the cultural (politics). The contributors include medical researchers, anthropologists, historians of science and sociologists of race relations; together, they explore the new and challenging landscape where biology becomes the stuff of identity.

    eISBN: 978-0-85745-254-2
    Subjects: Anthropology, Sociology, Health Sciences

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-v)
  3. Acknowledgements
    (pp. vi-vi)
    Katharina Schramm, David Skinner and Richard Rottenburg
  4. INTRODUCTION. Ideas in Motion: Making Sense of Identity Politics and the New Genetics
    (pp. 1-29)
    Katharina Schramm, David Skinner and Richard Rottenburg

    Contemporary politics of identity are often marked by a high level of emotional and political commitment on the part of the actors involved, and they remain a site of continuous contestation. Not only are they influenced by various historical ‘presences’, to borrow a phrase from Stuart Hall (1990), or by their respective social, economic or religious intersections, they are also inspired by developments in the life sciences. The sequencing of the human genome has been a decisive step in this direction, propelling old nature/nurture debates into a new terrain. How genetic, environmental and social factors interact in the production of...

  5. 1 ‘Race’ as a Social Construction in Genetics
    (pp. 30-52)
    Andrew Smart, Richard Tutton, Paul Martin and George T.H. Ellison

    There is an incongruity at the heart of postgenomic biomedical science. The sequencing of the human genome promised the elimination of racial and ethnic categories from biomedical science (Schwartz 2001). However, despite this, we have witnessed a resurgent interest in ‘race’, including challenges to the longstanding orthodoxy (following Lewontin 1972) that classifications of human populations by ‘race’ are not supported by genetic data (Andreasen 2000; Risch et al. 2002; Rosenberg et al. 2002; Edwards 2003). While some geneticists have consigned the concept of ‘race’ to the scrapheap, others appear to be reviving it. This work is occurring within a broader...

  6. 2 Mobile Identities and Fixed Categories: Forensic DNA and the Politics of Racialized Data
    (pp. 53-78)
    David Skinner

    A number of commentators have detected the beginnings of a ‘biopolitics’ of race, ethnicity and racism in which DNA becomes an object of value and struggle (Skinner 2006).¹ This dynamic politics involves the interplay of experts from both the natural and social sciences, policy makers and the lay public in sometimes surprising and novel configurations. But although in some situations new genetics are part of changes in understandings, representations and experiences of ‘race’, science is also being reframed within contemporary sociopolitical and governmental settings. The intention of this chapter is to contribute to the analysis of this changing politics by...

  7. 3 Race, Kinship and the Ambivalence of Identity
    (pp. 79-96)
    Peter Wade

    In this chapter I explore the changing connections between ‘race’ and ‘kinship’.¹ Both are realms in which identities, individual and collective, are constituted. Both are realms where ideas about genetics (and ‘blood’) have been and continue to be central. I argue that a key relationship between race and kinship, evident especially but not only in the Western world, is based on what I call race-kinship congruity. This is the idea that people who are related by consanguineous kinship should also have a ‘racial’ appearance that is congruent with – explicable in terms of – their kinship connections. The idea is based on...

  8. 4 Identity, DNA and the State in Post-Dictatorship Argentina
    (pp. 97-115)
    Noa Vaisman

    What role can and should the state play in shaping an individual’s identity? How has the discovery of DNA as a tool for identity verification fashioned the relationship between individuals and the state? And what is the social power and political limits of the statement ‘you are your DNA’? These questions guide my analysis in the present chapter, where I examine the case of the ‘living disappeared’ – individuals who were forcibly kidnapped as infants by the military dictatorship that ruled Argentina between 1976 and 1983. These individuals, now adults in their early thirties, were raised, in many cases, by the...

  9. 5 ‘Do You Have Celtic, Jewish or Germanic Roots?’ Applied Swiss History before and after DNA
    (pp. 116-140)
    Marianne Sommer

    Since the project for sequencing the human genome has been launched, actual and potential applications of medical genetics and gene technology, such as preimplantation diagnostics, embryo selection, cloning, genetic modification of organisms and personalized medicine, have prompted euphoric as well as alarmist assessments regarding their societal impact. Scholars in cultural studies see a new genetic determinism and racism at work, and have warned against the possibility of a new eugenics and of discrimination on the basis of genetic traits (for example, Duster 2003 [1990]; Kevles 1997). On the other hand, the transformative force of the new biosciences has also been...

  10. 6 Irish DNA: Making Connections and Making Distinctions in Y-Chromosome Surname Studies
    (pp. 141-166)
    Catherine Nash

    In January 2006 a new research paper on the human population genetics of Ireland was widely reported on in newspapers in Ireland and the U.S.A. The headline of the feature in theNew York Times– ‘If New York’s Irish Claim Nobility, Science May Back Up the Blarney’ – was based on the claims that ‘about one in 50 New Yorkers of European Origin – including men with names like O’Connor, Flynn, Egan, Hynes, O’Reilly and Quinn – carry the genetic signature’ (Wade 2006) linked to a fifth-century Irish high king, Niall of the Nine Hostages, whose large number of descendants are thought to...

  11. 7 Genomics en Route: Ancestry, Heritage and the Politics of Identity across the Black Atlantic
    (pp. 167-192)
    Katharina Schramm

    The making of identities and the construction of belonging involve multiple interactions between the spheres of history, politics, culture, law and economics. Moreover, these processes are profoundly shaped by developments in science and technology and vice versa (Jasanoff 2004). This constellation becomes particularly clear in the field of genealogy, where biological and cultural categories intersect to form unique and by no means static constellations of kinship, descent and inheritance (cf. Carsten 2000, 2004; Edwards 2000; Franklin 2007; Franklin and McKinnon 2001; Strathern 2005). In recent years, genealogical research into family histories has gained enormous popularity, not least because of technological...

  12. 8 Biotechnological Cults of Affliction? Race, Rationality and Enchantment in Personal Genomic Histories
    (pp. 193-211)
    Stephan Palmié

    My contribution to this volume is somewhat of a postscript to a forum essay that I published in theAmerican Ethnologista few years ago (Palmié 2007). A good deal of my argument in that article revolved around what even some of my most sympathetic critics took to be a purely polemic analogy between the rationality of divination as described in classic ethnographies and that of present-day genomic analyses, particularly the genomically enhanced ancestry searches known as ‘personal genomic histories’ (PGH). The present occasion gives me a welcome opportunity to address these concerns. In what follows, I will only briefly...

  13. Notes on Contributors
    (pp. 213-215)
  14. Index
    (pp. 217-221)