‘We Are All the Same, We All Are Mestizos’: Imagined Populations and Nations in Genetics Research in Colombia

Posted in Anthropology, Articles, Caribbean/Latin America, Health/Medicine/Genetics, Media Archive on 2016-07-29 20:16Z by Steven

‘We Are All the Same, We All Are Mestizos’: Imagined Populations and Nations in Genetics Research in Colombia

Science as Culture
Volume 23, Issue 2, 2014
pages 226-252
DOI: 10.1080/09505431.2013.838214

María Fernanda Olarte Sierra, Assistant Professor
Department of Design
University of the Andes, Bogotá, Colombia

Adriana Díaz Del Castillo Hernández, Independent Researcher
Consultoría en Estudios Sociales Sobre Educación, Salud, Ciencia y Tecnología, Bogotá, Colombia

In Colombia, as in other Latin American countries, current population genetics research is based on the understanding that Colombians constitute a mestizo nation, given the admixture process that took place between Africans, Amerindians, and Europeans during colonial times. The mestizo is a pervasive category used by geneticists to conduct, organise, and publish research studies that deal with the continent’s peopling process and the genetic makeup of its contemporary population(s). It is also the dominant imaginary for the Colombian population and a key nation-building ideology. By tracing how this category moves and is used across four Colombian genetics laboratories, it is possible to discern that despite its apparently clear-cut boundaries, the mestizo is contingent, contested, and flexible, allowing for multiple understandings and usages. This flexibility and multiplicity are visible in the quantification of genetic ancestry, the divisions of geographical location, and the understanding of gender. Such understandings allow one to think about a homogeneous nation (inclusive) that is simultaneously heterogeneous (exclusive); they provide multiple but not necessarily contradictory possibilities of being mestizo, allowing the coexistence of images of the nation that could otherwise seem contradictory; and they permit navigation around contested terms such as race, while simultaneously thinking of mixed races or racialised individuals. Finally, these flexible and multiple constructions of the mestizo (re)produce various subjects as ‘other’, whether they are women, the Indigenous, the black/dark, or the poor.

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