DNA Testing for Family Reunification and the Limits of Biological Truth

Catherine Lee, Torsten H. Voigt

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

12 Scopus citations


As nation-states make greater efforts to regulate the flow of people on the move—refugees, economic migrants, and international travelers alike—advocates of DNA profiling technologies claim DNA testing provides a reliable and objective way of revealing a person’s true identity for immigration procedures. This article examines the use of DNA testing for family reunification in immigration cases in Finland, Germany, and the United States—the first transatlantic analysis of such cases—to explore the relationship between technology, the meaning of family, and immigration. Drawing on our analyses of archival records, government documents, and interviews with immigration stakeholders, we argue that DNA testing is not conclusive about the meaning of family. While the technology may facilitate decision making for both would-be immigrants and state officials, our study shows hesitancy among the latter to let DNA testing make the final determination. We introduce the concept of social validity—whether the interpretation of test results matches social or political meanings in a given local context—in order to make sense of the complexities and challenges of DNA testing in practice. We show that DNA testing is not just a technology of belonging or a way to claim citizenship rights. It may also enable exclusion and denial of rights.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)430-454
Number of pages25
JournalScience Technology and Human Values
Issue number3
StatePublished - May 1 2020

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Anthropology
  • Social Sciences (miscellaneous)
  • Philosophy
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Economics and Econometrics
  • Human-Computer Interaction


  • DNA testing
  • biological citizenship
  • biotechnology
  • family reunification
  • immigration


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