EUROTAST fellow Sarah Abel updates us about her PhD fieldwork of the past several months:
Over the past four months I have been based in Washington DC, where I have been carrying out the second stage of my PhD fieldwork, into the social impacts of DNA ancestry testing in the USA. As with my previous fieldwork in Brazil, my research has focused on two approaches: firstly, interviewing scientists involved in the design and the analysis of genetic ancestry tests and results for the leading companies in the American ancestry testing market, to find out more about the processes and theories that go into generating and presenting genomic data for public consumers of ancestry tests. Secondly, I have been interviewing members of the public who have taken genetic ancestry tests for various reasons – as part of their own genealogical research; as participants in scientific studies; or out of sheer curiosity – to learn more about how members of the public interpret their personal genomic data, how results are shared and discussed in social networks, and what further impact this new information may have on ideas of identity, kinship and origins among test-takers.
By analysing the responses of these two groups, I hope to discover to what extent the marketing strategies and scientific techniques employed by different genetic testing companies influence the ways in which genomic data are understood and utilised by their customers, and to suggest what the longterm social impacts might be of the spread of personal genomic ancestry data in America. Finally, overall I aim to compare these findings with those of my study in Brazil, to assess how societal attitudes towards the links between genetic data and questions of identity, ancestry and origins relate to the specific demographic history and identity politics of each country.