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 supply scientific information about your id. These corporations typically declare to supply a whole view of your ancestry, regardless that they in actuality solely examine your DNA with different prospects of their database.
In keeping with latest estimates, over 26 million individuals from the world over have bought a genetic ancestry check. Within the wake of this hype, researchers have begun to research how the assessments have an effect on our perceptions of ourselves. How do individuals make sense of a check consequence stating that they’re, as an example, “35% Ashkenazi Jewish”, “27% British” or “4% western Asian”?
Some researchers have concluded that such assessments make prospects imagine that humanity may be divided into organic races, and that prospects see the assessments as a means of discovering their “true” identities. Different researchers have argued that individuals use their check outcomes selectively, “choosing and selecting” the genetic knowledge they discover suitable with their private needs and aspirations. From this attitude, taking a genetic ancestry check includes 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 had been associated to Vikings. For the reason that check outcomes didn’t embrace the time period “Viking”, most of them pointed to the class “Scandinavia” of their ethnic charts as proof of getting Viking ancestry.
Nearly all the individuals in our research noticed their outcomes as scientific affirmation of both “being associated to Vikings” or of really “being a Viking”. As a person from the US put it, the outcomes “started to verify or at the very least lay the premise for the individual that I’m.” In the same means, a lady from Sweden stated that her check allowed her to “know who I’m and what my origins are”.
Nonetheless, what the assessments truly proved was based mostly on artistic interpretation. On this sense, a number of of our interviewees took photographs of “the Viking” fostered in widespread 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. “Realizing that I’m descended from Vikings,” a person from the US stated, “has made it clearer to me why there is likely to be a genetic preponderance of violence and explosive anger in my household.”
In the same means, interviewees who thought of themselves to be stressed described the Vikings as explorers and naval engineers. A girl from the US stated, “I’ve to see new lands,” including that it was resulting from “the Viking” in her.
It appears then that using genetic ancestry assessments can facilitate a sort 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 isn’t just 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 standard 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 ought to be remembered that the determine of the Viking, which served as a distinguished image in European fascist actions in the course of the 20th century, is way from innocuous.
By dividing individuals into racial or nationwide classes, genetic ancestry assessments is likely to be used to set off tensions between totally different teams. Even when an individual’s “Viking DNA” solely quantities to a small quantity, it could actually nonetheless present an allegedly scientific foundation for racial division. In an period marked by growing xenophobia and ethnic chauvinism, you will need to pay attention to 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.