Analyzing asymmetries and praxis in aDNA research: A bioanthropological critique

Juan Manuel Argüelles, Agustín Fuentes, Bernardo Yáñez

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    11 Scopus citations


    Recent developments in molecular-biology-oriented studies regarding ancient DNA (aDNA) from human remains have brought into the contemporary discussions within archaeologists, bioanthropologists, and geneticists a set of disputes, tensions, and collaborations that need to be analyzed in practical and epistemological terms. We emphasize the relevance that techno-scientific collaborations have in this context focused mainly on human evolution and the peopling of the world. These international academic collaborations constitute an ecology in which aDNA studies are currently being worked out. An ecosystem that reproduces the geo-political-economic asymmetries within science, and more specifically in aDNA research, which in turn opens the possibility for thinking from an ethical and epistemological perspective about the economic and power differentials and imbalances of these asymmetric relationships. We argue for building a critical conceptual tool kit in order to tackle the problematics emerging from such investigations. We propose and define three core concepts: academic sovereignty, sustainability, and intermediary. Additionally, we offer the term academic vulnerability as a consequence of cultural vulnerability. The frame we offer here provides a structure to interrogate the dynamics of vulnerabilities in the current context of scientific praxis within aDNA research and illustrate the interplay between hegemonic science and the heritage of developing countries.

    Original languageEnglish (US)
    Pages (from-to)130-140
    Number of pages11
    JournalAmerican Anthropologist
    Issue number1
    StatePublished - Mar 2022

    All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

    • Anthropology
    • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)


    • Ancient DNA
    • Ethics
    • biological anthropology
    • sovereignty
    • sustainability


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