full name / name of organization: 
Université de Savoie, Chambéry, France

Biomapping or biocolonizing?

Indigenousidentities and scientific research in the 21st century

Universityof Savoie (Chambéry) France

January 28-30,2010

Though, from a positivist point of view,scientific research represents the cornerstone of progress, it is undeniablethat such research has often been used to support a particular policy orideology. For example, during the colonization of the United States, Canada,Australiaand New-Zealand, physical anthropology (and in particular craniometry) was usedto show the inferiority of indigenous peoples and, thereby, justify theirdomination or annihilation. For this reason, and also for many others,indigenous peoples have looked on such research with suspicion, if not outrighthostility.

These reactions are still in evidence today asnew scientific studies are focusing once again on indigenous peoples. In thefield of genetics, decoding human DNA has made it possible to look atgroup-specific variations around the globe. While the first projects were centeredon mainstream populations of European origins, Luca Cavalli-Sforza's call for amultiethnic approach focusing on "human diversity" and on "clues to theevolution of our species" (Genomics,Volume 11, Issue 2, October 1991) opened up the study to non-mainstream groups,and especially indigenous peoples.

While scientists were debating the origins ofthe Australian Aborigines, the Amerindians, or the Maoris (among others),indigenous peoples gathered in the International Working Group on IndigenousPopulations (WGIP) under the auspices of the United Nations in order to try toprotect their rights. This led to the drafting of the Declaration on the Rightsof Indigenous Peoples which, interestingly enough, the aforementioned countriesstrongly opposed (though Australiahas recently indicated its support for the Declaration).

Today many research groups and institutionshave understood that testing indigenous peoples to trace the migrations oftheir ancestors, for example, could generate fierce opposition among those whomay feel, once more, objectified. Thus, they have set up ethics committees todeal with such issues, and have placed greater emphasis on the necessity fordialogue with the communities that are the focus of such studies. However,while subsequent projects (such as ProjectGenographic) have taken pains to explain that they had no part ingovernment policies, would keep the data confidential, and would not use theDNA for commercial purposes, many indigenous groups still refuse to be tested.

The present conference seeks to explore thereaction of indigenous peoples to recent scientific research such as the HumanGenome Diversity Project or more specific studies on indigenous populations.Papers may focus on case studies – groups, nations or tribes who agree orrefuse to provide samples of their DNA for testing, for example. They may alsolook at opposition to scientific research from several angles: the clashbetween supposedly "hard" science and belief systems opposed to research on thehuman body, the often unspoken fear that genetic testing might uncover mixedorigins and thus lead to the loss of identification as an indigenous person orgroup, the refusal of genetic determinism, the belief that identity goes beyondthe merely scientific fact of DNA and is not to be questioned by outsiders –whether scientists or politicians – or the use of scientific knowledge for thepurpose of subjugation or domination throughout modern history. Finally, theymay inquire into the relationship between scientific or institutional bodiesthemselves and the indigenous populations being studied in order to determinehow dialogue is established, impaired or even severed.



Conference language will be English

Selectedcontributions will be considered for rewriting as book chapters


Université de Savoie,Chambéry, France

Laboratoire LLS (Langages,Littératures, Sociétés - Équipe d'accueil 3706)

Cluster 14 - RégionRhône-Alpes


Susanne Berthier (University of Savoie, France)susanne.berthier@univ-savoie.fr

Sandrine Tolazzi (University of Grenoble, France)sandrine.tolazzi@u-grenoble3.fr

Sheila Whittick (University of Grenoble, France)sheila.whittick@u-grenoble3.fr


Please send a 250-word abstract to theorganizers. Deadline for proposals: November 15, 2009.

Acceptations will be sent November 30, 2009

Papers must not take longer than 20 minutes.