Permanent Markers

Race, Ancestry, and the Body after the Genome

By Sarah Abel

272 pp., 6.125 x 9.25, 9 halftones

  • Paperback ISBN: 978-1-4696-6515-3
    Published: January 2022
  • Hardcover ISBN: 978-1-4696-6514-6
    Published: January 2022
  • E-book EPUB ISBN: 978-1-4696-6516-0
    Published: December 2021
  • E-book PDF ISBN: 979-8-8908-6092-7
    Published: December 2021

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Over the past twenty years, DNA ancestry testing has morphed from a niche market into a booming international industry that encourages members of the public to answer difficult questions about their identity by looking to the genome. At a time of intensified interest in issues of race and racism, the burgeoning influence of corporations like AncestryDNA and 23andMe has sparked debates about the commodification of identity, the antiracist potential of genetic science, and the promises and pitfalls of using DNA as a source of “objective” knowledge about the past.

This book engages these debates by looking at the ways genomic ancestry testing has been used in Brazil and the United States to address the histories and legacies of slavery, from personal genealogical projects to collective racial politics. Reckoning with the struggles of science versus capitalism, "race-blind" versus "race-positive" public policies, and identity fluidity versus embodied experiences of racism, Permanent Markers seeks to explain why societies that have broadly embraced the social construction of race continue to search for, and find, evidence that our bodies are indelibly marked by the past.

About the Author

Sarah Abel is British Academy Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of Cambridge’s Centre of Latin American Studies. 

For more information about Sarah Abel, visit the Author Page.


“Excellent. . . . Abel’s work is highly accessible yet theoretically astute. . . [and] of great interest to those of us who are intrigued and worried about the increasing use of historical genetics from Ancient DNA to Ancestry DNA.”—International Public History

“An insightful look into the booming DNA ancestry testing industry in both the United States and in Brazil. . . . [A] significant contribution to [the] field of cultural anthropology, the scholarship on race and the genome, and to wider interdisciplinary scholarship on the complex operations of race in both modern Latin American and United States contexts.”—Ethnic and Racial Studies

“Engaging, intriguing, and beautifully written, this book will be of major interest to specialists and to other readers in the social sciences and humanities. It gives profound and cutting-edge insights into the impact of genomic technologies on people’s ideas about human diversity, identity, and history.”—Peter Wade, author of Degrees of Mixture, Degrees of Freedom: Genomics, Multiculturalism, and Race in Latin America

“Accessible and nuanced, this book delivers much-needed insight into the social impact of the growth of the direct-to-consumer genetic testing market. It captures a unique snapshot in time of how genetic technologies have the power (or not) to alter the ways in which people understand and experience the world.”—Jada Benn Torres, co-author of Genetic Ancestry: Our Stories, Our Pasts