Anthropology, race and genetics: temporalities and spatialities
Peter Wade (Manchester University)
Katharine Tyler (University of Exeter)
Yulia Egorova (University of Durham)
Calman - Rosemary Cramp
Start time:
6 July, 2016 at 9:00
Session slots:

Short abstract:

This panel considers the temporalities and spatialities at work in the practice, commercialisation, representation and public engagement of genetic science. E.g. the concept of genetic ancestry draws on a spatio-temporal narrative about how humans peopled the world and became biologically diverse.

Long abstract:

This panel considers the temporalities and spatialities at work in genetic science including its practice, commercialisation, representation and public engagement. The panel focuses on the diverse sub-fields of genetic science, such as medical genomics, forensic identifications and the study of human population history, including so-called 'recreational genetics'. For example, the concept of genetic ancestry, which is fundamental to these sub-fields, draws on a specific temporal and spatial narrative about how and when humans spread across the world and biologically diversified. This narrative can resonate with - and explicitly reinforce - long-standing concepts of "race" as a biological reality or, in more complex ways, as a bio-cultural materiality. In this narrative, there is a built-in tension between stability (community, population isolate, adaptation to a niche, endogamy, indigeneity, origins) and instability (movement, migration, mixing). Based on these discourses about the past, genetic science rehearses another temporal narrative about a progressive future - undermining racism, improving health, and, through forensic genetics, combatting state impunity and helping restitution for victims' families. Each claim, however, can be challenged with evidence that the technology is socially regressive - reinforcing race, distracting attention from the social causes of ill-health, and increasing oppressive securitisation of the nation's internal and external spaces. The panel invites reflections on how historical and geographical discourses figure in genetic science, often in taken-for-granted ways, how they relate to changing ideas and practices about human diversity in genetic science, and what the future looks like for genetic science in these spatio-temporal narratives.