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Throwing the Genes

A Renewed Biological Imaginary of 'Race', Place and Identification

Zimitri Erasmus

In the United States of America, use of DNA samples in criminal investigation and of genetic ancestry tests in 'personalised medicine', 'pharmacogenetics' and for personal consumption has grown exponentially. Moreover, use of such technologies is visible in the public sphere. In South Africa, DNA sampling for ancestry testing is the most publicly visible application of these technologies. This work has shifted constructions of 'KhoiSan' communities from yesterday's 'missing evolutionary link' to today's 'Edenic origin of humankind'. I question human biogenetics as a home for meanings of history, humanity and belonging. To this end, I read selected genetic genealogical studies of communities considered 'KhoiSan', 'Coloured' and 'Lemba' in South Africa against concerns raised in recent literature about the use of such studies in the United States of America. I ask why bio-centric conceptions of 'race', identity and 'the human' remain so resilient. To grapple with this question, I draw on Sylvia Wynter's (2001; 2003) adaptation of Frantz Fanon's (1986) concept of 'sociogeny' into 'the sociogenic principle'. I close by suggesting the code for what it means to be human is best located in the 'word' rather than the human genome.

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Subtracting the Narrative

Trade, Collecting, and Forgetting in the Kongo Coast Friction Zone during the Late Nineteenth Century

Zachary Kingdon

Museums can be theorized as sites of forgetting. Furthermore, British traders who collected carved tusks made by Kongo-speaking peoples of the Central African coast in the nineteenth century appear to have had no interest in accounting for the complex narrative scenes that embellished these works. Recent scholarship advocates applying an “archaeological sensibility” (Harrison 2013) that conceptualizes museum collections as “assemblages” in order to reveal new knowledge about collections. This article employs a version of this approach by applying an ichnography, or “science of traces” (Byrne 2013), to the visual narratives carved on tusks in the World Museum Liverpool collection and to the textual narratives of British traders’ from the period, to reveal discrepant and elided themes in these sources. The insights generated by probing the significance of these narrative disjunctions helps provide a “thicker” understanding of the dynamic, cosmopolitan “zone” of cross-cultural interaction from which the tusks were acquired.