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Case Studies


I. Human Evolutionary Genetics (Tino Plümecke)

Our investigation focuses on research projects in human genetics and genomics that conceive the global distribution of allelic frequencies of human DNA as gradients rather than discrete clusters. The case study intends to answer, iter alia, the following questions: What characterises human evolutionary genetics that seeks to overcome race concepts? How can genetic variability be described in a reflexive and responsible way? In the study, we use participatory observation, interviews with relevant actors and document analysis.

II. Forensics/Criminalistics (Nils Ellebrecht)

In this case study we investigate (methods and) practices of forensic DNA analyses as well as the theoretical concepts and technologies behind these practices. Therefore, we analyse how individual genetic diversity is translated into group similarities and differences and how assumptions about typical phenotypical traits are made through and in forensic DNA analyses. We interview experts from the juridical, scientific, forensic and criminal investigative field to advanced forensic DNA analyses and compare how different European countries regulate their usage. In this context, we are particularly interested in exploring how forensic-genetic knowledge is used and dealt with in laboratories, police and criminal investigation departments.

III. Epidemiology (Andrea zur Nieden)

This case study examines how human diversity is recorded, operationalised and presented in epidemiological studies in Germany. While for example in the US, it is now common to differentiate not only between gender and age, but also between races and ethnicities in epidemiological studies and clinical trials, such differentiations in Germany are still developing with the recording of «migration background». We conduct a literature analysis, interviews with relevant stakeholders and participant observations.

IV. Pharmacology (Andrea zur Nieden)

This case study aims to find out how ethnic categories are translated and operationalised in international clinical or pharmacological studies that include a part conducted in Germany.
If drugs are to be marketed in the US, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) requires that US differentiations are used in the pre-approval studies. How do studies in Germany deal with categories like “Caucasian”, “Hispanic” or “African American” that are contingent on the US socio-political context?

V. Medical Research and Medical Practice (Nils Ellebrecht)

Started in March 2021, this case study takes results from the first half of the project and investigates their relevance in medical research and practice. Various concepts of human group differentiation are used in medical research in Germany. We therefore conduct semi-structured interviews with researchers about why and how specific concepts were chosen, taking a closer look at the reasons, debates, concerns, and compromises that are associated with the scientific use of biologically ambiguous concepts such as "race", “origin”, and “ancestry”.

VI. Neurosciences (Tino Plümecke)

This case study focuses on the use of sex and gender as heuristic tools in neuroscientific research. It examines a) how new imaging techniques (such as fMRI) transform and diversify the concepts of sex/gender, and b) how versions of sex/gender influence the research process and outcome. Special attention is given to those research practices that attempt to conceptualize sex/gender not as binary, but for example as a spectrum, as a mosaic and in particular context-specific.