The DNA Mystique: The Gene as a Cultural Icon / Edition 1

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"The DNA Mystique is a wake-up call to all who would dismiss America's love affair with 'the gene' as a merely eccentric obsession."
--In These Times

"Nelkin and Lindee are to be warmly congratulated for opening up this intriguing field [of genetics in popular culture] to further study."

The DNA Mystique suggests that the gene in popular culture draws on scientific ideas but is not constrained by the technical definition of the gene as a section of DNA that codes for a protein. In highlighting DNA as it appears in soap operas, comic books, advertising, and other expressions of mass culture, the authors propose that these domains provide critical insights into science itself.

With a new introduction and conclusion, this edition will continue to be an engaging, accessible, and provocative text for the sociology, anthropology, and bioethics classroom, as well as stimulating reading for those generally interested in science and culture.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Nelkin and Lindee, sociologists and historians of science at New York Univ. and at the Univ. of Pennsylvania, respectively, have assembled a compendium of ``folklore'' documenting images of the ``gene'' in contemporary American popular culture. They utilize this material to examine diverse intersections between current social issues and ideas about genetic determinism. The main chapters are informative surveys of such topics as eugenics, gender, sexuality, familial relations and social behaviors (criminal genes). The authors show how malleable arguments concerning genetic determinism can be and the ways popular images may channel public perception and influence courses of research. The nontechnical text avoids scientific errors. Although overviews in the initial and final pages are less coherent and although they are marred by the occasional opaque buzzword (essentialism, secular soul, supergene), the body of this work offers valuable insights. Illustrations. (Apr.)
Library Journal
Newspapers, TV talk shows, comic books, and even jokes are full of genetic soundbites-celebrity DNA and designer genes, genetic counseling, genes for cancer, and maybe gayness. Nelkin (Dangerous Diagnostics: The Social Power of Biological Information, Basic Books, 1991) and Lindee review the public's perception of genetics in pop culture, from early 20th-century eugenics, the ongoing nature vs. nurture debates, to current psychosocial concepts of the "gene" and what they term "genetic essentialism." This scholarly but nontechnical book documents public perceptions of simplistic genetic determinism. But will it help people differentiate the reality of clinic or courtroom from the fantasy of Jurassic Park? Maybe, but overall an optional purchase.-Mary Chitty, Cambridge Healthtech, Waltham, Mass.
Explores attitudes about the gene in popular culture, drawing on stories and metaphors from film, television, news reports, comic books, and cartoons, revealing how science and culture intersect to shape the social meaning of the gene. Describes how the gene has been appropriated to define the proper family, predict behavior, and advance common stereotypes of gender and race, and looks at how cultural interpretations of the gene influence institutional practices and social policies. Includes b&w photos. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780472030040
  • Publisher: University of Michigan Press
  • Publication date: 7/19/2004
  • Series: Conversations in Medicine and Society Series
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 312
  • Sales rank: 1,204,052
  • Product dimensions: 6.16 (w) x 9.06 (h) x 0.76 (d)

Meet the Author

Dorothy Nelkin, University Professor at New York University, passed away in the spring of 2003.

M. Susan Lindee is Associate Professor at the University of Pennsylvania.

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Table of Contents

1 The powers of the gene 1
2 The eugenic gene 19
3 Sacred DNA 38
4 The molecular family 58
5 Elvis's DNA 79
6 Creating natural distinctions 102
7 Absolution : locating responsibility and blame 127
8 Genetic essentialism applied 149
9 Genetic futurism 169
10 The supergene 192
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