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Murray Edwards College
University of Cambridge
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    Dr Sarah Abel

    Centre of Latin American Studies
    Alison Richard Building
    7 West Road
    CB3 9DP

    Bye Fellow in Social Anthropology

    Social Anthropology



    BA (Hons), MPhil, PhD

    Research Interests

    Sarah is a cultural anthropologist with an interdisciplinary background, whose research specialises in dynamics of race and racism in North American and Latin American societies. Broadly speaking, her work explores how ancestry and identity become inscribed in the body through cultural processes and political systems.

    Sarah’s current research project looks at how skin colour has been represented and given social meaning through science, technology, and art in Mexico. Previously, her work has focused on how public uses of genetics are shaping conceptions of identity in Brazil and the United States.

    Currently, Sarah teaches on the MPhil course for the Centre of Latin American Studies. She has conducted fieldwork in the US, Brazil, Iceland, Cuba and Mexico, and would be interested in hearing from students who are working on topics relating to race, ethnicity, and scientific production in American societies.


    Sarah is a British Academy postdoctoral fellow at the Centre of Latin American Studies. She earned her BA in MML (French and Spanish) and her MPhil in Latin American Studies from the University of Cambridge. In 2016 she was awarded a PhD from the EHESS, Paris, for her thesis examining the science and social uses of DNA ancestry tests in the US and Brazil. From 2016 to 2019 she was affiliated to the University of Iceland, where she conducted further research into how genomic data are shaping public conceptions of the past in European and American societies.

    Sarah has been a member of two major interdisciplinary European networks (EUROTAST and CitiGen), and her research has received funding from the EU’s Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions programme, and from Humanities in the European Research Area. She is currently writing a book about the relationship between DNA, ancestry, and identity.


    Abel, Sarah. Permanent Markers: Race, Ancestry, and the Body after the Genome. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2022.

    Abel, Sarah. “Linked Descendants: Genetic-Genealogical Practices and the Refusal of Ignorance around Slavery.” Science, Technology, & Human Values, June 8, 2021.

    Abel, Sarah. “Lo que los ojos no alcanzan a ver: Genómica, color, y cuotas ‘raciales’ en Brasil.” In Educaciones y racismos. Casos y reflexiones, edited by Saúl Velasco Cruz, María de los Ángeles Gómez Gallegos, and Diego Francisco Morales Esquivel, 280–316. Colotlán: Universidad de Guadalajara, Centro Universitario del Norte, Universidad Pedagógica Nacional, 2021.

    Abel, Sarah, and Hannes Schroeder. “From Country Marks to DNA Markers. The Genomic Turn in the Reconstruction of African Identities.” Current Anthropology 61, no. S22 (2020): S198–209.

    Abel, Sarah, and Gísli Pálsson. “Dépister l’ancestralité : Machines et techniques généalogiques dans la reconstruction des histoires de famille.” Ethnologie française 2, no. 178 (2020): 269–84.

    Abel, Sarah. “Rethinking the ‘Prejudice of Mark’: Concepts of Race, Ancestry, and Genetics among Brazilian DNA Test-Takers.” ODEERE 5, no. 10 (2020): 186–221.

    Abel, Sarah, George F. Tyson and Gísli Pálsson. 2019. “From Enslavement to Emancipation: Naming Practices in the Danish West Indies,” Comparative Studies in Society and History 61, no. 2: 332–365.

    Abel, Sarah. 2018. “What DNA Can’t Tell. Problems with Using Genetic Tests to Determine the Nationality of Migrants.” Anthropology Today 34, no. 6: 3–6.

    Abel, Sarah. 2018. “Of African Descent? Blackness and the Concept of Origins in Cultural Perspective.” Genealogy 2, no. 1.

    Abel, Sarah. 2016. “À la recherche des identités transatlantiques : Des boucles conceptuelles au croisement de la société, l’histoire et la génétique. / In Search of Transatlantic Identities: Conceptual Loops at the Crossroads of History, Society, and Genetics.” Nuevo Mundo Mundos Nuevos, section Colloques.

    Abel, Sarah and Marcela Sandoval Velasco. 2016. “Crossing Disciplinary Lines: Reconciling Social and Genomic Perspectives on the Histories and Legacies of the Transatlantic Trade in Enslaved Africans.” New Genetics and Society, 35, no. 2: 149–85.