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Making the Mexican Diabetic

Making the Mexican Diabetic: Race, Science, and the Genetics of Inequality

Michael J. Montoya
Copyright Date: 2011
Edition: 1
Pages: 282
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  • Book Info
    Making the Mexican Diabetic
    Book Description:

    This innovative ethnographic study animates the racial politics that underlie genomic research into type 2 diabetes, one of the most widespread chronic diseases and one that affects ethnic groups disproportionately. Michael J. Montoya follows blood donations from "Mexican-American" donors to laboratories that are searching out genetic contributions to diabetes. His analysis lays bare the politics and ethics of the research process, addressing the implicit contradiction of undertaking genetic research that reinscribes race's importance even as it is being demonstrated to have little scientific validity. In placing DNA sampling, processing, data set sharing, and carefully crafted science into a broader social context,Making the Mexican Diabeticunderscores the implications of geneticizing disease while illuminating the significance of type 2 diabetes research in American life.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-94900-3
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Preface
    (pp. xiii-xxii)
  5. INTRODUCTION Situating Problems of Knowledge
    (pp. 1-39)

    The decades-long effort to sequence the human genome changed the way many people talk about human biology, disease, and difference. Genes were hailed as the ultimate medical solution to every kind of disease and unwanted behavioral condition. Popular media stories of criminals released from death row, genetic tests to find one’s “true” ancestors, and science fiction movies all heralded a new genomic age.¹ It was the promise of the genomic revolution that led to the creation of the Human Genome Project. Formally launched in 1990 with funding from the Department of Energy and the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the...

  6. CHAPTER 1 Biological or Social: Allelic Variation and the Making of Race in Single Nucleotide Polymorphism–Based Research
    (pp. 40-68)

    On a hot Chicago day, I work with Pedro, a graduate student from Texas, as he retrieves samples from the 12-by-12-foot walk-in cooler. It is a welcome retreat from the Midwest heat. Pedro’s lab space is across the hall from the cooler. After shuttling a few times with Pedro as he replaces his samples and places the Styrofoam boxes onto the shelves, I notice that the shelves are loaded with such containers. Upon closer examination, I noted the inscriptions on the boxes presumably corresponding to their respective contents: “Jap 2/78,” “MexAm,” “Black,” “Utah,” “Af-Am.” Many of the boxes are more...

  7. CHAPTER 2 Genes and Disease on the U.S.-Mexico Border: The Science of State Formation in Diabetes Research
    (pp. 69-90)

    Anchored at the hub of the consortium at the University of Chicago, I followed the use of DNA data through the pathways of collaborative research. I learned from Nora and other consortium members that the main data set that Nora had been working on came from a Texas researcher who had been gathering DNA and anthropometric data from Mexicana/o families for decades. There were more than ten thousand individuals in this data set, all of whom came from one South Texas area and its northern Mexican counterparts. At Nora’s suggestion, I contacted the researcher and scheduled the first of many...

  8. CHAPTER 3 Purity and Danger: When One Stands for Many
    (pp. 91-111)

    The Sun County community has been selected because of its ethnic composition, a composition that is explicitly racialized through a discourse of admixture. For example, Carl reports that the community was selected both for the high incidence of type 2 diabetes and for its presumed ethnic homogeneity. The early studies dealing with epidemiology and Mexican Americans paid considerable attention to estimating ethnic admixture. For these studies, admixture is operationalized as the percentage of genetic material derived from each branch of a person’s ancestral line, in this instance narrated in ethnic terms. For example, one study published in 1986 proposed a...

  9. CHAPTER 4 Collaboration and Power: Processing Cultures and Culturing Data
    (pp. 112-139)

    In her famous essay titled “Situated Knowledges,” Donna Haraway writes, “Critics of the sciences and their claims or associated ideologies, have shied away from doctrines of scientific objectivity in part because of suspicion that an ‘object’ of knowledge is a passive and inert thing.”¹ I am both haunted and vexed by Haraway’s unrelenting insistence that we do better than simply point out the obvious power implications of a technoscientific find. Yet, there is a place, in the analytical practice of making a partial account,² through which the power of the knower must be accounted for. In this chapter, I examine...

  10. CHAPTER 5 Recruiting Race: The Commodification of Mexicana/o Bodies from the U.S.-Mexico Border
    (pp. 140-156)

    On the “Beldon Farms” in Northern California, the local chapter of the American Diabetes Association staff and volunteers (one social scientist included) conduct a free screening for diabetes among farmworkers. Translating for the English-speaking monolingual public health nurse, several of us would fill out a card for each employee that lists his or her name, weight, age, sex, and time of last meal. The men and women would line up to get their finger lanced and fill a tiny pipette with their blood. The blood would then be transferred to a glucose meter that would calculate sugar levels. While waiting...

  11. CHAPTER 6 Bioethnic Conscription
    (pp. 157-178)

    In the 1960s and 1970s, scientists immortalized a unique line of cancerous cells from Henrietta Lacks.¹ The cell line was celebrated for its unique contributions to research but later became the source of great controversy when it became the presumed source of laboratory contamination. Landecker’s account of the HELA (a name formed from the first two letters of the donor’s names) cell line details how metaphors of miscegenation overtook this once-venerated cell line when the source of contamination was thought to be the polymorphous expression of an enzyme believed to occur only in people of African ancestry.² Human biologists, reports...

  12. CONCLUSION Beyond Reductionism: Bioethnicity and the Genetics of Inequality
    (pp. 179-190)

    Explaining how race comes to be a site of commonsense truth claims, popular truth claims, and scientific truth claims about diabetes and human difference writ large is one of the aims of this book. Race and nature, or at times race as nature, comprise an assemblage of productive associative relationships, as Donald Moore and colleagues rightly aver, that are at once material and semiotic. That is, there are real social relationships that affect us all, that are shaped by and that shape the way we work, play, live, and learn while also molding our experiences and our understandings of our...

  13. Epilogue
    (pp. 191-192)

    As this book goes to press, the polygene discovery featured herein has failed to be replicated by other scientists. The preponderance of evidence points toward some evolutionary significance, but the association with type 2 diabetes susceptibility remains elusive. Nora is a sought-after speaker on methodological matters, and her message is always the same: “Proceed with care and with caution.” Diabetes genes have been reported in Icelandic populations that do not rely upon racializations or “admixture.”¹ Whether these findings stand the test of confirmation, replication, or the weaknesses that result from sociocultural black box effects, remains to be seen.²

    The race...

  14. Glossary
    (pp. 193-198)
  15. Notes
    (pp. 199-222)
  16. Bibliography
    (pp. 223-246)
  17. Index
    (pp. 247-259)
  18. Back Matter
    (pp. 260-260)