Becoming a Viking: DNA testing, genetic ancestry and placeholder identity

2015-11-20T15:58:15Z (GMT) by Marc Scully Steven D. Brown Turi King
A consensus has developed among social and biological scientists around the problematic nature of genetic ancestry testing, specifically that its popularity will lead to greater genetic essentialism in social identities. Many of these arguments assume a relatively uncritical engagement with DNA, under ‘high-stakes’ conditions. We suggest that in a biosocial society, more pervasive ‘low-stakes’ engagement is more likely. Through qualitative interviews with participants in a study of the genetic legacy of the Vikings in Northern England, we investigate how genetic ancestry results are discursively worked through. The identities formed in ‘becoming a Viking’ through DNA are characterised by fluidity and reflexivity, rather than essentialism. DNA results are woven into a wider narrative of selfhood relating to the past, the value of which lies in its potential to be passed on within families. While not unproblematic, the relatively banal nature of such narratives within contemporary society is characteristic of the ‘biosociable’.