NIH Sep 19, 2018 | R21

Appropriation, Adaptation, and Political Mobilization of Genomics Research

Principal Investigator(s): Panofsky, Aaron

Institution: University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA)

FOA Number: PA-17-446


This project will analyze how US white nationalists are appropriating, adapting, politically mobilizing and changing themselves in response to contemporary genomics research. White nationalists have gained public prominence since 2015 trying to bring greater visibility to their movement and policy ideas. Ideas from genetics have been prominent in their public pronouncements and in online discussions among white nationalists. For example, they discuss genetic ancestry tests to demonstrate pure European/white ancestry, population genetics to prove the biological reality of race, and behavior genetics to claim the intellectual and behavioral superiority of whites. However, professional geneticists have repudiated such interpretations arguing all populations are admixed, race is a poor representation of genetic population structure, and genetics is non- deterministic and cannot be used to justify social hierarchies. This leads to a series of questions: Why have white nationalists sought to appropriate genomics? How have they built interpretations that contradict the mainstream of professional genetics? And what areas of research and findings have drawn most of their interest? At stake in this study is the public understanding of contemporary genomics and whether white nationalists' interpretations will gain prominence. Sociological research has shown that the public acceptance of ideas has less to do with whether they are right or wrong than with how audiences perceive the authority of speakers. Thus beyond their interpretations, how white nationalists build authority and seek to discredit ideas that contradict theirs will also be discerned. This project will draw its research materials from white nationalists' writings in online blogs, news and opinion pieces, and discussion forums. It will employ the methods of qualitative, interpretive sociology and draw analytically from studies of public participation in science to uncover white nationalists' cognitive frameworks and meanings as they engage contemporary genomics. The project has three aims. 1) To catalog white nationalist discussion of genomics online, map the subfields and topics they focus on and ignore, and to compare their interpretations with those of professional genomics researchers. 2) To analyze how they mobilize genomics ideas in service of their political agenda, how they change their politics in response, and how this compares to those of past political movements. 3) To reconstruct how they build authority for their interpretations of science and applications to politics. Findings will help enrich discussions of the ethical, legal, and social implications of genetics to go beyond medical and scientific contexts to political meanings. Furthermore, this project will offer tools to improve science communication to limit the appeal of discriminatory or racist appropriations of genetics.




Funding Type:

Project Number:

Start Date:
Sep 19, 2018

End Date:
Aug 31, 2020



Related Projects

+ Search results