ISG Professor Aaron Panofsky and former ISG postdoc Joan Donovan’s 2019 article, “Genetic Ancestry Testing Among White Nationalists” has just won the Star-Nelkin Prize for Best Article from the Science, Knowledge, and Technology section of the American Sociological Association.
White nationalists have a genetic essentialist understanding of racial identity, so what happens when using genetic ancestry tests (GATs) to explore personal identities, they receive upsetting results they consider evidence of non-white or non-European ancestry? Our answer draws on qualitative analysis of posts on the white nationalist website Stormfront, interpreted by synthesizing the literatures on white nationalism and GATs and identity. We show that Stormfront posters exert much more energy repairing individuals’ bad news than using it to exclude or attack them. Their repair strategies combine anti-scientific, counter-knowledge attacks on the legitimacy of GATs and quasi-scientific reinterpretations of GATs in terms of white nationalist histories. However, beyond individual identity repair they also reinterpret the racial boundaries and hierarchies of white nationalism in terms of the relationships GATs make visible. White nationalism is not simply an identity community or political movement but should be understood as bricoleurs with genetic knowledge displaying aspects of citizen science.
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