Edited by Russell W. Belk
Chapter 31: Romancing the Gene: Making Myth From ‘Hard Science’
Elizabeth C. Hirschman and Donald Panther-Yates Problematizing consumer ethnicity: introduction What we want to explore in the present chapter is how consumers who are not highly trained in biogenetics weave together the quantitative, technologically produced bits of evidence that result from a personal DNA test with their own pre-existing cultural narratives on race, genealogy and identity (see Appendix). We want also to examine in conjunction with this the social, political and economic tensions that consumers become aware of and must negotiate in their eﬀorts to make sense of their DNA racial ancestry, especially upon discovering ancestry that is not ‘white’ (Panther-Yates, 2003; Hirschman, 2005; Kennedy, 1997). In particular we will use consumer commentary about American Indian ancestry to illustrate these issues. American Indian ancestry is particularly interesting for two reasons. First, it is a racial ancestry that was greatly maligned during the early parts of the twentieth century, only to be resurrected as signifying nobility and spirituality during the second portion of that same century (Carvajal-Carmona et al., 2000; Jones, 2002; Smith, 1999). American Indians have now arrived at the status of a revered icon in our national consciousness – the central ﬁgures of a nature-based utopian myth that is viewed as sadly wrecked by the onslaught of European colonial hegemony from the 1500s onward (Smith, 1999). This is the type of heroic–tragic narrative which many contemporary American consumers ﬁnd deeply attractive and to which they would like to attach themselves through genetics (Hall and du Gay, 1996). Second,...
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