Graduation Year


Document Type




Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)

Degree Granting Department


Major Professor

Mahuya Pal, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Patrice Buzzanell, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Joshua Scacco, Ph.D.

Committee Member

David Rubin, Ph.D.


organizational communication, organizational websites, postcolonial analysis, biocapitalism


As direct-to-consumer (DTC) genetic testing technologies become an ever-expanding business in the United States, this dissertation project investigates the ways in which two leading organizations, AncestryDNA and 23andMe, utilize discourses of ‘race’ to connect with their customers. This study is particularly significant because it opens up new avenues of research in the field of organizational communication by engaging with a new genre of organizations and the complexities of biocapitalism, in which genetic data is commodified for consumption. Blending computational scraping of data and manual qualitative analysis of organizational texts and videos available on the corporate websites, while using postcolonial studies and critical race theory, this study demonstrates how these organizational websites simultaneously: a) re-center (reify) ‘race’ as fixed and biological through discourses of ethnicity and ancestry, and b) de-center the realities of ‘race’ and medical racism through discourses of health.

My analysis brings forth the following themes: The Ancestral You, The Ethnic You, The Knowledgeable You, The Healthy You, and The Empowered You. These themes suggest that the organizations enable customers to be their authentic, ancestral ethno-racial self as well as healthy, knowledgeable, and empowered self. At a meta level these themes represent discourses of race and health—they communicate the promise of a “racially complete” self and a healthy self.

This dissertation also examines how discursive whiteness can operate within organizational infrastructures that prioritize postracial approaches to genetic testing. While constructing an aspirational “self” for the customer, the organizational discourses continually de-center and re-center race and demonstrate the organizational websites as infrastructures of whiteness. These ideas speak to ideas of biocapitalism and explain how racial logics are produced.

I argue that these organizations both deploy discourses of ‘race’ to create ethno-commodities and bio-value for their possible customers and use ideas of ‘discovery’ to engage with a system of biocapitalism. I further argue that they engage in new modes of exploitation, foster new forms of racial membership based on genetic race, and advance race as technology. The theoretical implications of this study draw attention to the roles that corporations have in the U.S and their relationship with their customers in the context of contemporary biocapitalism. Above all, I contribute to discussions of white supremacy and whiteness in the organizational communication processes, an understudied area of research in the discipline.

Included in

Communication Commons