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Week 7 : Boundaries

Tutor: Professor Roberta Bivins

Note: This seminar will take place in the Centre for the History of Medicine Hub, R2.15, Ramphal Building

A crucial feature of contemporary scientific practice and knowledge production is the centring of boundaries and boundedness. Activities related to identifying, defining and policing boundaries – between scientific disciplines, between experts and publics, between ‘sciences’ and ‘humanities’, theory and application, and indeed between individuals, populations, nations and cultures – preoccupy the STEM fields and their ‘stakeholders’ in the wider society. They have, too, attracted considerable scholarly attention in both the history of science and science and technology studies.

This week we will look at DNA as an exemplary boundary object, claimed and deployed across a wide range of disciplines, within and beyond the biosciences. We will examine it too as an agent of boundary making and policing across a range of geopolitical and cultural territories. Our required readings sample some of approaches currently in use to critically appraise the impacts of genetics, genomics and the ‘molecularization’ of social and cultural categories and processes that they facilitate. Alternate readings offer additional approaches and further examples.


Required Readings

Roberta Bivins, ‘Hybrid Vigour? Genes, Genomics, and History’, Genomics, society, and policy vol. 4,1 (2008): 12-22. doi:10.1186/1746-5354-4-1-12

Motion, Judy, and Bill Doolin. "Out of the Laboratory: Scientists' Discursive Practices in Their Encounters with Activists." Discourse Studies 9, no. 1 (2007): 63-85. Accessed February 15, 2021. (NB. This replaces the previous reading from Kerr on 'New Genetics' which was unavailable digitally.)

Hannah Landecker, ‘Antibiotic Resistance and the Biology of History’, Body & Society 22, no. 4 (December 2016): 19–52. doi:10.1177/1357034X14561341.

Torsten Heinemann and Thomas Lemke, ‘Suspect Families: DNA Kinship Testing in German Immigration Policy’, Sociology 47: 4 (2012): 810-826.

Alternate readings:

Brian Beaton, ‘Racial Science Now: Histories of Race and Science in the Age of Personalized Medicine’, The Public Historian, 29 (2007), pp. 157-162. e-journal

Roberta Bivins, ‘Genetically Ethnic? Genes, ‘Race’ and Health in Thatcher’s Britain’, in Bivins, Contagious Communities: Medicine, Migration and the NHS in Post-War Britain (OUP, 2015), pp 3-4-367. (Proquest e-book available at Library)

Roberta Bivins, ‘Sex Cells: Gender and the Language of Bacterial Genetics’, Journal for the History of Biology 33:1 (2000): 113-139.

Arthur Daemmrich, ‘The Evidence Does Not Speak for Itself: Expert Witnesses and the Organization of DNA-Typing Companies’, Social Studies of Science, 28 (1998), pp. 741-772. e-journal

Anne Fausto Sterling, ‘Refashioning Race: DNA and the Politics of Health Care’, d i f f e r e n c e s: A Journal of Feminist Cultural Studies, 15 (2004), pp. 2-37. e-journal

Kaja Finkler, Experiencing the New Genetics: Family and kinship on the medical frontier (Philadelphia, 2000).

Hannah Landecker, ‘Food as exposure: Nutritional epigenetics and the new metabolism’, BioSocieties vol. 6,2 (2011): 167-194. doi:10.1057/biosoc.2011.1

Amâde M’charek, ‘Technologies of Population: Forensic DNA Testing Practices and the Making of Differences and Similarities’, Configurations, 8 (2000), pp. 121 158. e-journal

Dorothy Nelkin, M. Susan Lindee, ‘Chapter 1, The Powers of the Gene’, in Dorothy Nelkin, M. Susan Lindee, The DNA Mystique: The Gene as a Cultural Icon (New York, 1995), pp. 1-18.

Dorothy Nelkin, M. Susan Lindee, ‘Chapter 8, Genetic Essentialism Applied’, in Dorothy Nelkin, M. Susan Lindee, The DNA Mystique: The Gene as a Cultural Icon ( New York, 1995), pp. 149-168.

Shobita Parthasarathy, Building Genetic Medicine: Breast Cancer, Technology, and the Comparative Politics of Health Care (Cambridge, MA, 2007).

Rayna Rapp, Deborah Heath and Karen Sue Taussig, ‘Flexible Eugenics: Technologies of the Self in the Age of Genetics’, in Alan Goodman, Deborah Heath and S Lindee, eds, Genetic Nature/ Culture: Anthropology and Science Beyond the Two Culture Divide (Berkley: University of California Press,2001) pp. 58-76. [Available at]

David Skinner, “‘The NDNAD Has No Ability in Itself to Be Discriminatory’: Ethnicity and the Governance of the UK National DNA Database.” Sociology 47, no. 5 (October 2013): 976–92. doi:10.1177/0038038513493539.