Is the new genomics reconfiguring kinship and family?

This is the title of a 3-week problem-based learning case for a graduate course on Gender, Race, and the Complexities of Science and Technology.  One week into the case the instructors gave mini-lectures on how their own work would apply to this topic (audio, visual aids).  The following are notes from the presentation.

0.  Preliminaries

Science <-> Interpretation <-> Engagement

My work involves cross-fertilization between science and interpretation of the social context in which science is produced, as well as cross-fertilization between interpretation of the social context in which science is produced and action to modify that context and thus the science.  (Evidenced in the title [and contents] of my 2005 book, Unruly Complexity: Ecology, Interpretation, Engagement.)  Two relevant concepts:

Reciprocal animation

Close examination of conceptual developments within the sciences can lead to STS questions about the social influences shaping scientists’ work or its application, which, in turn, can lead to new questions and awareness of alternative approaches in those sciences.

Heterogeneous construction

•  many diverse elements linked together over time (intersecting processes) ->

•  things have multiple contributing causes ->

•  there are multiple points of engagement =

points at which the courses of construction could be changed.

1. Science (i.e., an issue that my background as a scientist [in plant breeding] has led me to identify)

Underlying heterogeneity is a significant un(der)acknowledged issue in genetics and genomics, especially in debates about the technical concept heritability, a concept that is drawn on in wider nature-nurture debates.

2. STS interpretive inquiries (in the spirit of reciprocal animation)

a. historical (look at origins of the heritability in agricultural breeding)

b. submission for publication as a probe into social dynamics of science (look at the ways reviewers and editors discount the technical issues raised)

c. conflation of family and population  — see, “The conflation of family and population helps explain why the Nature vs. Nurture formulation persists”

-> d. historical again, review early eugenics (based on a and c, examine whether the conflation is central to the formulation of eugenic science and politics,e.g., when concerns about the decline of the British Empire lead to advice about marriage choices)

3.  Engagements

Participatory postscripts in a new book project, Troubled by Heterogeneity? From the prospectus for the book:

“Of course, there is no guarantee that specialist readers will accept my critical reconstructions of established accounts that have neglected heterogeneity [see 2b above]…. [T]herefore, I… introduc[e] experiments designed to allow diverse readers to pull on strands that interest them and thereby contribute to a collective result over which I have less control.


“A blog will juxtapose two kinds of entries: a. Stories shared by family members, care-givers, and other actors—including STS researchers—that amplify the PKU picture of diverse influences shaping pathways of development over the life course for those with distinct genetic conditions…; b. Claims that molecular biology and biotechnology will allow genetic information to reshape human life.  Readers would be invited to contribute entries of both kinds as well as to make comments contrasting the claims with infrastructure-building measures (including measures sometimes taken by the same researcher making the claims).”

The initiation of this blog will occur shortly.


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