Genetic Nationalism: Scientific Communities and Ethnic Mythmaking in the Middle East
Burton, Elisabeth Katherine
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CitationBurton, Elisabeth Katherine. 2017. Genetic Nationalism: Scientific Communities and Ethnic Mythmaking in the Middle East. Doctoral dissertation, Harvard University, Graduate School of Arts & Sciences.
Abstract“Genetic Nationalism” is a comparative history of human genetics research in Iran, Turkey, and Israel. Covering the century between the First World War and the present, I show how the technologies and discourses of racial anthropology and medical genetics have been locally adapted to construct national identities and control ethnic minorities in the Middle East. Furthermore, I investigate how the global biomedical infrastructure of the Cold War era reinscribed colonial patterns of scientific collaboration and technological development.
Intervening in existing postcolonial critiques of science, I argue that even as Middle Eastern researchers have been marginalized in the Western-dominated international scientific community, they have simultaneously acted as technocratic elites to reinforce nationalist hegemonies within their own countries. I base this argument on an original analysis of over 350 scientific publications on inherited physiological traits, blood group frequencies, and DNA variations among Iranian, Turkish, and Israeli populations. My analysis juxtaposes these scientific texts with the archived correspondence and oral history records of Middle Eastern scientists and their Western colleagues, examining how the two groups interacted with each other and with their research subjects to produce a set of “ethnic myths” merging scientific inquiry with local understandings of heredity, identity, and nation. My comparative work shows that despite the massive advancements in technological sophistication between anthropometry and whole-genome sequencing, geneticists have continuously relied on nationalist narratives of population origins to select research subjects and interpret their genetic data. Ultimately, these globally standardized research practices have reified sociopolitical categories into biological entities.
Citable link to this pagehttp://nrs.harvard.edu/urn-3:HUL.InstRepos:41142077
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