Photo Credits: DNA sequencing autoradiograph, Michele Studer, Wellcome Collection (CC BY 4.0); Fragile X metaphase spread + nucleus, Wessex Reg. Genetics Centre, Wellcome Collection (CC BY 4.0).
In 2018 Senator Elizabeth Warren took a DNA test to ward off criticism that she fabricated a Native American heritage; the release of the test was subsequently criticized by the Cherokee Nation. Cherokee Nation Secretary of State Chuck Hoskin made the following statement: “Using a DNA test to lay claim to any connection to the Cherokee Nation or any tribal nation, even vaguely, is inappropriate and wrong.”
Meanwhile, DNA databases such as GEDMatch are increasingly being used to solve cold cases and to prove or disprove paternity, often by accessing information that was stored for different purposes. The NYTimes reports that “60 percent of Americans of Northern European descent — the primary group using these sites — can be identified through such databases whether or not they’ve joined one themselves, according to a study published in the journal Science.”
Podcasts, true crime shows, family history documentaries and police procedurals all attest to a cultural obsession with, and a faith in, the potential of DNA to reveal some kind of truth. This seminar explored the cultural politics of DNA. What is behind the current fascination with DNA testing, and more generally, what does it say about truth, race and identity in the current era?
Presented in partnership with UCalgary Alumni. The Alumni Engagement Partnership Fund has generously provided us with support that allowed us to Livestream the forum. You can watch the entire proceedings from May 3, 2019.
Kim TallBear, PhD
Associate Professor in the Faculty of Native Studies at the University of Alberta and Canada Research Chair in Indigenous Peoples, Technoscience & Environment; she is the author of Native American DNA: Tribal Belonging and the False Promise of Genetic Science, presenting “American Progress Redux: Elizabeth Warren’s DNA and Settler Mythology”
Jackie Stacey, PhD
Professor of Media and Cultural Studies at The University of Manchester and author of The Cinematic Life of the Gene, presenting “The Sexual Politics of Cloning Films.”
M. Susan Lindee, PhD
Janice and Julian Bers Professor of the History and Sociology of Science at the University of Pennsylvania; she is author of Moments of Truth in Genetic Medicine and The DNA Mystique: The Gene as Cultural Icon, presenting “The DNA Experience: Consuming Identity in the Twenty-First Century.”
Morning session part 1
M. Susan Lindee, PhD, “The DNA Experience: Consuming Identity in the Twenty-First Century."
Morning session part 2
Kim TallBear, PhD, “American Progress Redux: Elizabeth Warren’s DNA and Settler Mythology.”
Jackie Stacey, PhD, “The Sexual Politics of Cloning Films.”