The importance of being Uros: Indigenous identity politics in the genomic age

Michael Kent

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The objective of this article is to explore the interrelations between human population genomic research, the political strategies of indigenous movements and processes of identity formation. It will do so by analysing the collaboration between the Uros, an indigenous group living on artificial floating islands on Lake Titicaca (Peru), and researchers of the Genographic Project. Claiming descent from the ancient Urus, the islands' inhabitants used their differentiated ethnic identity as a central resource in a territorial conflict with the Peruvian state. Their engagement with genetics was aimed at obtaining scientific support for their highly contested claims. In fact, the results of genomic research became a central element in the debate waged around the identity of the Uros. This article aims to contribute new insights into the incorporation of genetic research within the political debates waged over the identities of indigenous populations, as well as to the interaction of genetic knowledge with pre-existing discourses for defining ethnic identities. It also analyses the ways in which genetic research is turned into a political resource with the ability to generate significant social effects in the daily lives of studied populations. © The Author(s) 2012.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)534-556
Number of pages22
JournalSocial Studies of Science
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2013


  • Andes
  • genetics
  • Genographic project
  • identity politics
  • indigenous movements


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