Date of Graduation


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts in Communication (MA)

Degree Level





Lisa Corrigan

Committee Member

Ryan Neville-Shepard

Second Committee Member

Joe Hatfield


ancestry, colonialism, critical rhetoric, multiculturalism, narrative, race, racial capitalism, whiteness


Using critical historical rhetorical methods along with critical race and decolonial theory, this project situates ancestral pursuits as a communication-centered discursive formation by investigating the rhetorical strategies modern biotech and genealogy companies utilize to influence contemporary discourse around identity and belonging and narrate ethnicity and genealogy as acts of consumption. Through direct-to-consumer DNA testing and complimentary services, modern day biotech and genealogy companies like Ancestry and 23andMe market personalized insights into ancestry, genealogy, inherited traits, and health data that promise to connect users to their past, as well as to situate them in present-day society, through a deeper understanding of their identity and health. The rhetorical strategies of these companies participate in the production and maintenance of colonialism through engaging in rhetorical strategies of whiteness in their marketing rhetoric, research initiatives, and private partnerships. This analysis demonstrates that contemporary ancestral pursuits are technologies of whiteness, even when users are of non-European heritage. Genealogy and biotech companies narrate different ethnicities as discrete cultural zones of performance to be celebrated as acts of consumption and equate culture to the biological classifications of race by celebrating a diversity model of multiculturalism. Ultimately, this study calls for adopting a framework of polyculturalism, which allows people to be complex human beings with intertwined, impure ancestral histories that do not align to prescribed racial, ethnic, or cultural categories and allows people to challenge the normalization of who has access to resources and who is able to make claims of authenticity.

Available for download on Wednesday, May 17, 2023