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Genetic Indigenisation in “The People of the British Isles”

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal article

Published

Journal publication date2012
JournalScience as Culture
Journal number2
Volume21
Number of pages23
Pages153-175
Early online date31/05/11
Original languageEnglish

Abstract

In 2007, Channel 4 screened 'Face of Britain', a documentary about the genetic mapping of Britain. 'Face of Britain' promised to reveal ‘who we really are’ by tracing genetic links back to ancient Celts, Anglo-Saxons, Vikings and Normans. This article situates 'Face of Britain' within the wider racial and national politics that it is invariably caught up in, and examines how ‘race’ and racial thinking are reconfigured in ways that are both ‘old’ and ‘new’. 'Face of Britain' constitutes an interesting case study to examine how ideas of indigeneity are produced and naturalised in scientific discourses and practices. Here, indigeneity is mobilised through three sub-narratives: the ‘vanishing indigene’; the promise of facial recognition; and DNA and national relatedness. The analysis reveals how some people of the British Isles are naturalised as indigenous by virtue of their ancestral presence in this land through a combination of genetic and photographic technologies. In short, blood and soil are intertwined, with genes as mediators between ancestors and contemporary inhabitants of Britain.
Furthermore, the invisible genetic connection is made visible through the creation of ‘average faces of Britain’, which is considered here as a contemporary version of physiognomy. In conclusion, 'Face of Britain' testifies to the reconfiguration of ‘racial thinking’ in contemporary science, through what ultimately amounts to the genetic indigenisation of white Britons. Consequently, this study lends itself to racialised politics of land claims that resonate with, but are different from, indigenous politics in other contexts, namely with regards to the relationship to whiteness.