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Centre of Latin American Studies

Sarah Abel

Dr. Sarah Abel

PhD in Social Anthropology and Ethnology, EHESS Paris

MPhil in Latin American Studies, University of Cambridge

BA (Hons) in Modern and Medieval Languages (Spanish and French), University of Cambridge


I am a cultural anthropologist with an interdisciplinary background, and my research specialises in dynamics of race, racism and antiracism in American societies. As a British Academy postdoctoral fellow (2019-2022), my current project looks at how visual representations of the body, and skin colour, in particular, are being mobilised in the context of contemporary public and scientific discussions around racism, and as part of broader antiracist projects in Mexico. In particular, my research asks: how are visual regimes being used to reproduce or disrupt traditional ideas about Mexico as a ‘post-racial’ nation; the role of mestizaje as a basis for national identity; and conceptions of Whiteness as a racial ‘ideal’? In what ways has the recent focus on skin colour as a marker of social inequality been used to propel public debates, and forge transversal alliances, identities and movements against racism and other intersecting forms of oppression?

Broadly speaking, my work is concerned with how ancestry and identity become inscribed in and on bodies through biocultural processes and biopolitical regimes, and the ways in which contemporary antiracist programmes seek to challenge these legacies. In previous research, I have focused on how genomic technologies are created and implemented in ways that reflect and interact with local preoccupations about race, ethnicity, and national identity. My doctoral thesis compared how personalised DNA ancestry tests have been mobilised in Brazil and the United States in the past two decades, in particular as a means of redressing the legacies of slavery by reconstructing genealogical links between African-American and African populations. My forthcoming monograph, Permanent Markers: Race, Ancestry, and the Body after the Genome (UNC Press), looks at how the current availability of personalised DNA ancestry data is intervening in scientific and public discourses about the relationship between DNA and identities, and asks how far genetic knowledge can be a useful tool for tackling forms of racism.

I have been a member of two major interdisciplinary European networks (EUROTAST and CitiGen), and my research has received funding from the EU’s Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions programme and Humanities in the European Research Area. I have conducted fieldwork in the US, Brazil, Iceland, Cuba and Mexico, and would be interested in hearing from prospective MPhil students who are working on topics relating to race, ethnicity, and scientific regimes of knowledge in American societies.

Research interests

  • Comparative studies of racisms and anti-racisms
  • Representations of skin colour in ‘mestizo’ societies
  • Impacts of genetics and anthropology on knowledge production about race, ethnicity, human origins
  • DNA ancestry testing and genealogy
  • Anthropology of naming practices
  • Histories and legacies of transatlantic slavery

Selected publications


In the 2020/2021 academic year I will be convening and teaching on the CLAS MPhil module Race, racism, and anti-racism in Latin America.