By Maurizio Meloni (auth.)
This booklet explores the socio-political implications of human heredity from the second one half the 19th century to the current postgenomic second. It discusses eugenics, the fashionable synthesis, and epigenetics. Meloni argues that because of findings in epigenetics we can be witnessing a go back to 'soft heredity'.
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Extra info for Political Biology: Science and Social Values in Human Heredity from Eugenics to Epigenetics
The epistemic rupture of hard heredity A key step in the construction of hard heredity was made possible by a reconfiguration of the architecture of the cell particularly after 1870 (Churchill, 1968, 1987, 2015; Müller-Wille and Rheinberger, 2012). As 40 Political Biology Churchill writes, “the ten years from 1873 to 1882 were extraordinary in the annals of biology. With respect to the development of nuclear cytology, the decade possessed all the excitement and multiple revelations of the decade preceding the discovery of the structure of DNA some seventy years later” (2015).
No interloper or dilettante, Galton had an important role in the journal Nature, to which he contributed regularly after its founding in 1869. He received many awards in recognition of his scientific achievements (Cowan, 1985). But as much as he fit his era, Galton also represents an important step in the making of modern science: the emergence and legitimation of a new class of scientific professionals whose prestige was marshaled to influence moral reasoning and public policy in the name of “practical benefits” for the larger society (Waller, 2001: 102).
The construction of the modern notion of heredity is part of a broader transition that brought to the emergence of biology as a science of life differentiated from the natural history of the classical period (Foucault, 1970; Jacob, 1973). In this discontinuous passage, which brought the notion of depth and organization at the center of the new biological view, discourses and metaphors about reproduction and heredity started to replace older notions like generation. In this previous framework, as François Jacob famously observed, “Living beings did not reproduce; they were engendered.