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Genetic Geographies

Genetic Geographies: The Trouble with Ancestry

Catherine Nash
Copyright Date: 2015
Pages: 240
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  • Book Info
    Genetic Geographies
    Book Description:

    What might be wrong with genetic accounts of personal or shared ancestry and origins? Genetic studies are often presented as valuable ways of understanding where we come from and how people are related. InGenetic Geographies, Catherine Nash pursues their troubling implications for our perception of sexual and national, as well as racial, difference.

    Bringing an incisive geographical focus to bear on new genetic histories and genetic genealogy, Nash explores the making of ideas of genetic ancestry, indigeneity, and origins; the global human family; and national genetic heritage. In particular, she engages with the science, culture, and commerce of ancestry in the United States and the United Kingdom, including National Geographic's Genographic Project and the People of the British Isles project. Tracing the tensions and contradictions between the emphasis on human genetic similarity and shared ancestry, and the attention given to distinctive patterns of relatedness and different ancestral origins, Nash challenges the assumption that the concepts of shared ancestry are necessarily progressive. She extends this scrutiny to claims about the "natural" differences between the sexes and the "nature" of reproduction in studies of the geography of human genetic variation.

    Through its focus on sex, nation, and race, and its novel spatial lens,Genetic Geographiesprovides a timely critical guide to what happens when genetic science maps relatedness.

    eISBN: 978-1-4529-4167-7
    Subjects: Population Studies, Anthropology, Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Introduction: Geography, Genetics, Kinship
    (pp. 1-30)

    In July 2012, visitors to the Royal Society’s Summer Science Exhibition, an annual event held in London “showing the most exciting cutting edge science and technology” to the general public, could take away a free silicone wristband. Printed on it were the words “Genetic Differences Reveal Our Ancestry.” These wristbands, of the sort usually associated with charity fundraising, were available at one exhibit that featured the People of the British Isles project exploring the premodern settlement of Britain through studies of contemporary human genetic variation in the United Kingdom. When I visited on one of the last few days, the...

  5. 1 Genome Geographies: The Making of Ancestry and Origins
    (pp. 31-68)

    What does it mean to say that part of an individual’s genomic sequence indicates the place of ancestral origin of that person? What is genetic ancestry, and how are places of ancestral origin defined and located through the analysis of genetic material? How and to what end is knowledge of this kind being produced in the scientific study of human genetic variation and in the business of genetic ancestry testing? What cultural understandings and scientific practices come together to locate an individual within a global geography of differentiated ancestral origins? What makes this a meaningful form of personal knowledge? Posing...

  6. 2 Mapping the Global Human Family: Shared and Distinctive Descent
    (pp. 69-100)

    In August 2009, a documentary titledThe Human Family Treewas broadcast on the National Geographic Channel in the United States as a popular presentation of the National Geographic Society’s Genographic Project. This five-year collaborative international research project in the field of human population genetics (launched in 2005 and funded through an alliance of charitable, educational, and corporate interests) is described as an “effort to understand the human journey—where we came from and how we got to where we live today” by studying contemporary patterns of human genetic variation.¹The Human Family Treedocumentary focused on the genetic ancestries...

  7. 3 Our Genetic Heritage: Figuring Diversity in National Studies
    (pp. 101-136)

    “What does being British mean to a scientist?” This is the opening line of the text accompanying a short video that appeared in December 2010 featuring the People of the British Isles project on the website of its funding body, the biomedical charity the Wellcome Trust.¹ This project was initially granted £2.5 million in 2004 and was extended through funding for a further five years in 2010. It is led by the eminent geneticist Sir Walter Bodmer at the Weatherall Institute of Molecular Medicine, University of Oxford. In its first phase, the project aimed to produce a “genetic map of...

  8. 4 Finding the “Truths” of Sex in Geographies of Genetic Variation
    (pp. 137-170)

    Human population genetics is as much about sex as it is about race, ethnicity, or nation. It is about multiple instances of who has sex with whom or, to put it more scientifically, how their specific and cumulative reproductive outcomes shape individual ancestries and patterns of genetic variation. Human sexual reproduction is fundamental to human evolution as a species and to genetic diversity within the human species. Genetic reconstructions of the geography of human origins and global, continental, and regional patterns of early human migration long relied on studying reproductive lineages—maternal and paternal direct line ancestry—as proxies for...

  9. Conclusion. Degrees of Relatedness: “Natural” Geographies of Affinity and Belonging
    (pp. 171-184)

    Writing about a set of practices, technologies, and knowledges that are embedded within or closely aligned to the competitive forward rush of human genomics means there will always be a time lag between new research on human genetic variation, new applications, and new popular accounts of that work and the emergence of critical academic discussion of these developments. As I bring this book to a conclusion, new material springs up. Empirical examples multiply and more will follow as the time scales of writing and book production are outpaced by the science and culture of human population genetics. The results of...

  10. Notes
    (pp. 185-220)
  11. Index
    (pp. 221-238)
  12. Back Matter
    (pp. 239-239)