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Talk: From One Drop to One Percent: The Impact of DNA Ancestry Tests on the Worldview of White Supremacists
March 13 @ 12:00 pm - 1:30 pm
A talk by Joan Donovan, Postdoctoral Fellow at The UCLA Institute for Society and Genetics. This event is co-sponsored by the Department of Sociology and Anthropology.
Title: From One Drop to One Percent: The Impact of DNA Ancestry Tests on the Worldview of White Supremacists
About the Speaker: Advances in population genetics and the direct-to-consumer marketing of DNA ancestry tests are challenging how groups fashion and maintain their identities. Most commonly, researchers focus on how Native Americans and African Americans’ identities are co-constructed through these new scientific narratives of history and human evolution. Until now though, few have looked at how white people use these tests to generate a sense of belonging to a group. As well, no one has taken on this controversial question: How do white supremacists understand and mobilize around this new genetic science? We constructed a database of online posts from a white supremacist discussion board, where users share their genetic ancestry results and others comment on their pedigree. We find that similar to previous research on DNA ancestry testing, those who take these tests reexamine their biology, history, and culture in light of new and often surprising information. In our case study, we are investigating how DNA tests challenge the “one drop” ideology of white supremacists and how scientific expertise is contested in this context. We conclude that the marketing of these DNA ancestry tests, where location becomes a categorical proxy for race, helps to support white supremacists’ beliefs in the biology of race, while also troubles their desire for racial purity. This project builds on my research related to digital methods and online social movements, while also reveals the negative effects of the public understanding of science, where scientific communication about genetics reifies biological racial categories.
Biography: Joan Donovan is a Postdoctoral Fellow at The UCLA Institute for Society and Genetics. She conducts action research with different networked social movements in order to map the communication infrastructures built by protesters. As a participant, she identifies information bottlenecks, decodes algorithmic behavior, and connects organizations with other like-minded networks.
This event is free and open to the public, but if you are not a member of the Northeastern community, please email Sarah Connell (sa.connell[at]northeastern[dot]edu) to register.