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The substance that empowers? DNA in South Asia

Egorova, Yulia

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Drawing on two ethnographic examples of the sociocultural aspects of populations genetic research in India, the article explores in what ways tests aimed at assessing ‘genetic differences’ between populations can be viewed as enabling or disempowering for individuals, communities or nations subjected to such tests. The first builds on a response to DNA research demonstrated by the leaders of the Jewish Bene Ephraim community of Andhra Pradesh, a Dalit group who in the late 1980s declared their descent from the Lost Tribes of Israel. The second focuses on the Indian Genome Variation Consortium, a research network established in India in 2003 with the aim of mapping the country's human genetic diversity. Building upon Prainsack and Toom's theoretical concept of situated dis/empowerment, I suggest that in both case studies empowering and disempowering elements of DNA testing appear to co-constitute and co-produce each other, as they both reinforce reductionist accounts of human sociality and serve as rhetorical tools for social and political liberation.


Egorova, Y. (2013). The substance that empowers? DNA in South Asia. Contemporary South Asia, 21(3), 291-303.

Journal Article Type Article
Publication Date Sep 9, 2013
Deposit Date Jan 23, 2015
Publicly Available Date Jan 26, 2015
Journal Contemporary South Asia
Print ISSN 0958-4935
Electronic ISSN 1469-364X
Publisher Taylor and Francis Group
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 21
Issue 3
Pages 291-303
Keywords Population genetics, India, Dalits, Bene Ephraim, Genomic Sovereignty.


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