Anthropology Lecture Series #5: The Genetic origins of the Cosmic Race: The constitution of time, blackness, and indigeneity in the Universe of Mexican Mestizaje

by Dr. Ernesto Schwartz-Marin

31.05.2022 at 18:30 CET

In genomic science, ethno-racial distinctions are intimately tied to the construction of temporality and genetic diversity. The ways in which the construction of time and genetic diversity destabilise, challenge —and sometimes reinforce—notions of demographic history, and nationhood brings forth relationships between race and genetics that move beyond tropes that denounce the ‘reinscription’ or ‘reification’ of race, but also complicates ideas of coproduction of science, and society. I substantiate my claim by exploring how Mexican geneticists visualise the origins and transformations of mestizaje (racial and cultural miscegenation or admixture) during two years of participant observation within the Population Genomics laboratory at the Mexican Institute of Genomic Medicine (INMEGEN). Through a series of snapshots of scientific practice, specifically disputes (or rather disjunctures) between genetic scientists, and close collaborators in medicine and physical anthropology, I delineate the tacit ordering & knowledge claims that shape how geneticists articulated and/or decoupled dominant narratives of national identity and origins. I call the temporal logics and insights born from these disjunctures in scientific practices ‘the time of race’.  The time of race only became apparent when genetic diversity was explained to outsiders, or when population geneticist needed to delimit and assert their unique contributions to our understanding of human history.  Simultaneously, the time of race opened-up how nativist and nationalistic ideas of genetic belonging, legal regulation and policy are irreconcilable with scientific practice, producing forms of epistemic erasure that provide a critical vantage point to rethink notions of civic epistemologies and socio-technical imaginaries.

Schwartz- Marin is a Science and Technology Studies scholar working in the fields of biomedicine, forensics and citizen science. He conducts in-depth ethnographic research of race & genomics, and develop participatory action research models to intervene in humanitarian crises via DNA bio banking, grass-roots databases, and citizen-led science.

He is currently developing research on data justice, citizen-sensing and alternative approaches to scientific innovation in the Global South in spaces like Mexico, Colombia and Indonesia. His current research projects are: Mobile Solutions Against the Mexican Kidnapping Epidemic (Newton Fund-ESRC 2016-19) and Data Justice in Mexico’s Multiveillant Society (ESRC Transformative 2018-20). His research has attracted vast public attention since Mexicans are currently dealing with more than 61,000 disappearances (according to the Mexican government) in a context characterized by the complicity of authorities and organized crime. For a brief audio-visual taste of Citizen-Led Forensic watch:

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