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The Material Gene

The Material Gene: Gender, Race, and Heredity after the Human Genome Project

Kelly E. Happe
Copyright Date: 2013
Published by: NYU Press
Pages: 303
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  • Book Info
    The Material Gene
    Book Description:

    In 2000, the National Human Genome Research Institute announced the completion of a draft of the human genome, the sequence information of nearly all 3 billion base pairs of DNA. In the wake of this major scientific accomplishment, the focus on the genetic basis of disease has sparked many controversies as questions are raised about radical preventative therapies, the role of race in research, and the environmental origins of illness. In The Material Gene, Kelly Happe explores the cultural and social dimensions of our understandings of genomics, using this emerging field to examine the physical manifestation of social relations. Situating contemporary genomics medicine and public health within a wider history of eugenics, Happe examines how the relationship between heredity and dominant social and economic interests has shifted along with transformations in gender and racial politics, social movement, and political economy. Happe demonstrates that genomics is a type of social knowledge, relying on cultural values to attach meaning to the body. The Material Gene situates contemporary genomics within a history of genetics research yet is attentive to the new ways in which knowledge claims about heredity, race, and gender emerge and are articulated to present-day social and political agendas.Kelly E. Happeis assistant professor of communication studies and women's studies at the University of Georgia.

    eISBN: 978-0-8147-4472-7
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-xii)
    (pp. xiii-xvi)
  5. 1 Ideology and the New Rhetoric of Genomics
    (pp. 1-22)

    In a 1999 article in the journalPlastic and Reconstructive Surgery, a surgical team describes the case of “A.H.,” a patient who undergoes an elevenhour operation to remove her breasts, ovaries, and uterus. The surgery also included the reconstruction of breasts using skin and tissue from various parts of her body. In all, the surgery involved three separate surgical teams and was divided into four stages. After a four-day hospital stay, A.H. was released; she underwent additional procedures on her breasts over the next seven months.

    Although narrated in the matter-of-fact clinical language of the case report, the surgery was,...

  6. 2 Heredity as Ideology: Situating Genomics Historically
    (pp. 23-60)

    Two years ago I attended a panel discussion on epigenetics, part of the University of Georgia’s “Darwin Days” series of events. I was interested in the panel because epigenetics exemplifies for me the stunning creativity and innovation of modern-day genomics research. Not surprisingly, Lamarckism came up—in particular, its association with Soviet-era genetics research, most of which was based on the materialist notion that environmentally induced changes could be transmitted to one’s offspring. One of the panelists eventually proclaimed, “Well, I guess we’re all Marxists now!” I took this comment to be an implicit recognition (even in its attempt at...

  7. 3 Genomics and the Reproductive Body
    (pp. 61-100)

    In 2008 National Public Radio interviewed Jessica Queller, author of the bookPretty Is What Changes. In the book and the interview, Queller describes the experience of testing positive for a BRCA mutation, one that conferred upon her an 87 percent chance of being diagnosed with breast cancer and a 44 percent chance of an ovarian cancer diagnosis. These percentages presented themselves as a form of terrifying, imposing yet ultimately empowering knowledge. For Queller this meant deciding between one of two courses of action: heightened vigilance in the form of routine screening or prophylactice surgery to remove her breasts and...

  8. 4 Genomics and the Racial Body
    (pp. 101-138)

    In 2006 theNew York Timespublished an article by Denise Grady titled “Racial Component Is Found in Lethal Breast Cancer.” The article opens with Grady’s summary of research published in theJournal of the American Medical Association: “Young black women with breast cancer are more prone than whites or older blacks to develop a type of tumor with genetic traits that make it especially deadly or hard to treat, a study has found.” This story, and the research it concerns, raises fairly serious questions about the meaning of race in medicine and in the broader culture. What does it...

  9. 5 Genomics and the Polluted Body
    (pp. 139-176)

    In 2002 I attended a conference at Columbia University titled “Human Genetics and Environmental Justice: A Community Dialogue.” Sponsored by the environmental justice organization West Harlem Environmental Action, the conference brought together geneticists, public health specialists, lawyers, and community activists to explain the science of genomics and discuss its social impact. It marked an important moment in the history of the environmental justice movement by having long-time activists directly engage a scientific discipline other than epidemiology. The gene-environment model informed the presentations of the speakers in a well-meaning attempt to elucidate the mechanisms of diseases like asthma that do not...

  10. 6 Toward a Biosociality without Genes
    (pp. 177-188)

    This book opened with the case of “A.H.,” a woman for whom a positive BRCA test made it thinkable to remove her breasts, ovaries, and uterus. The previous chapter ended with three vignettes of environmental social movement: civil rights and environmental justice, biomonitoring and chemical pollution, and breast cancer and gender justice. In all cases, the body figures centrally as that which both enables and compels action. Yet the bodies of these discourses are different in both the ontological and epistemological senses of the term. Embodied existence (which can also be understood as body practices) is the basis for forming...

  11. NOTES
    (pp. 189-242)
    (pp. 243-272)
  13. INDEX
    (pp. 273-287)
    (pp. 288-288)