Graciela Cabana, Assistant Professor, University of Tennessee, Knoxville
History teaches us that race concepts can be especially harmful when essentialized as “natural” biological or genetic concepts. For this reason, social science scholars have expressed concern over how recent genetic research, particularly studies of genetic ancestry, may be encouraging a new form of essentialism of race and ethnicity. Current work in this area has revealed considerable complexities in the ways in which genetics and race are co-configured, depending on individuals’ motivation and social context. To better understand this dynamic, scholars are calling for further empirical research in varied social-cultural settings, as well as extending analyses into related notions of ethnicity and national belonging.
In this talk I discuss an ongoing intradisciplinary project between a biological and cultural anthropologist that responds to this call. We investigate how information about human genetic variation affects notions of race, ethnicity, and national belonging in Argentina. In Argentina, the notion of whiteness has been central to its nation building – so much so, that Argentina’s citizenry does not relate to ideas of race, as much as it does to cultural or ethnic differences, within the larger category of “European.” However, this situation has been changing as Argentina has slowly responded to more than two decades of global and regional multicultural forces that encourage nations to unite under the banner of diversity rather than homogeneity. At the same time, a spate of recent human genetic studies focused on genetic ancestry has begun to contradict long-held popular perceptions of Argentina’s “Europeanness.”
We have developed an innovative research design in which Argentines are exposed to information on their personal genetic ancestry, as well as to the ancestries of their fellow citizens. This is combined with a longitudinal ethnographic study in which we are evaluating the ways in which these identities may become socially meaningful over the longer term. We have conducted a pilot project to evaluate the utility of a mixed-method approach as well as the research potential of a longitudinal project, and present the results here, as well as our goals for the expanded research project beginning September, 2014.
Also sponsored by the Ethics Institute, the Department of Spanish and Portuguese, and the Latin American, Latino, and Caribbean Studies Program
Events are free and open to the public unless otherwise noted.