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Biobanks of a racial kind’: mining for difference in the new genetics

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While social scientists have argued that race emerges through a historically grounded context and is best understood as fluid and reactive to historical and political conditions, genetics and the search for differences revisit notions of race as embedded in the physical body. Lee argues that DNA repositories maintain both physical and symbolic space for notions of genetic essence among human groups whereby race’ is framed as a natural kind. She argues that, despite rhetorical strategies to de-race the new genomics, the ongoing significance of racial differences in the naming of groups reveals the socio-cultural context in which genomic science is produced and translated into clinical medical practice. In addressing the seeming paradox between the mantra of sameness, which emphasizes that humans share 99.9 per cent of their genetic material, and the current infrastructure of biobanks being built in support of research on difference, Lee examines three DNA banks and discusses the emergence of the trope of genetic particularity’. She argues that this trope is possible through a reframing of the human genome as not one collective, common blueprint, but rather as derivations of a theme whereby diversity is translated into racial identity’ re linked to biological difference.

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Keywords: DNA; biobanks; genome; human genetics; medicine; national identity; population; race; science

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 2006-09-01

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