A middle-aged white man raises his sword to the skies and roars to the gods. The outcomes of his genetic ancestry check have simply arrived in his suburban mailbox. His eyes fill with tears as he learns that he’s “0.012% Viking”. These are the scenes from a video commercial for the TV-series Vikings.
This man is definitely not the one one craving for a genetic check to verify his Viking ancestry. A plethora of corporations around the globe market DNA-tests that promise to offer scientific info about your identification. These corporations usually declare to offer an entire view of your ancestry, though they in actuality solely examine your DNA with different prospects of their database.
In response to latest estimates, over 26 million individuals from internationally have bought a genetic ancestry check. Within the wake of this hype, researchers have begun to analyze how the assessments have an effect on our perceptions of ourselves. How do individuals make sense of a check outcome stating that they’re, as an illustration, “35% Ashkenazi Jewish”, “27% British” or “4% western Asian”?
Some researchers have concluded that such assessments make prospects imagine that humanity might be divided into organic races, and that prospects see the assessments as a means of discovering their “true” identities. Different researchers have argued that folks use their check outcomes selectively, “selecting and selecting” the genetic information they discover appropriate with their private wishes and aspirations. From this attitude, taking a genetic ancestry check entails some degree of artistic interpretation.
What it means to have “Viking DNA”
In our new research, we carried out interviews with individuals from the US, the UK and Sweden who had bought genetic ancestry assessments to see in the event that they have been associated to Vikings. For the reason that check outcomes didn’t embody the time period “Viking”, most of them pointed to the class “Scandinavia” of their ethnic charts as proof of getting Viking ancestry.
Nearly the entire individuals in our research noticed their outcomes as scientific affirmation of both “being associated to Vikings” or of truly “being a Viking”. As a person from the US put it, the outcomes “started to verify or not less than lay the idea for the person who I’m.” In an identical means, a girl from Sweden mentioned that her check allowed her to “know who I’m and what my origins are”.
Nevertheless, what the assessments really proved was primarily based on artistic interpretation. On this sense, a number of of our interviewees took pictures of “the Viking” fostered in well-liked tradition and political propaganda, and used them to make sense of their very own lives.
For instance, individuals with experiences of violence and abuse used their “Viking genes” as rationalization – describing Vikings as warriors and berserkers. “Figuring out that I’m descended from Vikings,” a person from the US mentioned, “has made it clearer to me why there is perhaps a genetic preponderance of violence and explosive anger in my household.”
In an identical means, interviewees who thought-about themselves to be stressed described the Vikings as explorers and naval engineers. A lady from the US mentioned, “I’ve to see new lands,” including that it was because of “the Viking” in her.
It appears then that the usage of genetic ancestry assessments can facilitate a type of “genetic determinism”, wherein an individual’s life is the pure results of their genome. From this attitude, people seem to not have a lot management over their lives.
Genetics and race
The affect of genetic ancestry assessments is not only restricted to individuals buying the assessments. By activating ideas like “Viking”, “British” or “Jewish”, such assessments additionally play right into a wider politics of race and ethnicity.
Vikings have been used as a typical signal for a demographic which has traditionally been affiliated to notions of whiteness and Nordic nationalism. Whereas purporting to have Viking ancestry doesn’t make an individual a racist or a proponent of white supremacy, it must be remembered that the determine of the Viking, which served as a outstanding image in European fascist actions through the twentieth century, is way from innocuous.
By dividing individuals into racial or nationwide classes, genetic ancestry assessments is perhaps used to set off tensions between completely different teams. Even when an individual’s “Viking DNA” solely quantities to a small quantity, it might nonetheless present an allegedly scientific foundation for racial division. In an period marked by rising xenophobia and ethnic chauvinism, you will need to concentrate on the interaction between genetics and concepts of race.
Anna Källén receives funding from Riksbankens Jubileumsfond, grant quantity P17-0574:1.
Daniel Strand receives funding from Riksbankens Jubileumsfond, grant quantity P17-0574:1.