Social by Nature: The Promise and Peril of Sociogenomics

Social by Nature: The Promise and Peril of Sociogenomics

by Catherine Bliss

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Sociogenomics has rapidly become one of the trendiest sciences of the new millennium. Practitioners view human nature and life outcomes as the result of genetic and social factors. In Social by Nature, Catherine Bliss recognizes the promise of this interdisciplinary young science, but also questions its implications for the future. As she points out, the claim that genetic similarities cause groups of people to behave in similar ways is not new—and a dark history of eugenics warns us of its dangers.

Over the last decade, sociogenomics has enjoyed a largely uncritical rise to prominence and acceptance in popular culture. Researchers have published studies showing that things like educational attainment, gang membership, and life satisfaction are encoded in our DNA long before we say our first word. Strangely, unlike the racial debates over IQ scores in the '70s and '90s, sociogenomics has not received any major backlash. By exposing the shocking parallels between sociogenomics and older, long-discredited, sciences, Bliss persuasively argues for a more thoughtful public reception of any study that reduces human nature to a mere sequence of genes.

This book is a powerful call for researchers to approach their work in more socially responsible ways, and a must-read for anyone who wants to better understand the scholarship that impacts how we see ourselves and our society.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780804798341
Publisher: Stanford University Press
Publication date: 01/16/2018
Edition description: New Edition
Pages: 304
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x (d)

About the Author

Catherine Bliss is Associate Professor of Sociology at the University of California, San Francisco. She is the author of Race Decoded: The Genomic Fight for Social Justice (Stanford, 2012), which won the Oliver Cromwell Cox Book Award from the American Sociological Association.

Table of Contents

Contents and Abstracts

1Genes and Their Environments
chapter abstract

Chapter 1 provides a social history of the "nature-nurture" divide. Starting with protobiological notions at work in early modern thought and moving forward to modern and late modern biology, this chapter reveals the roots of today's gene-environment emphasis. Situating social genomics amid long-standing sciences such as sociobiology and behavior genetics, and more recent fields such as evolutionary psychology and neuropolitics, it examines the features specific to today's sociogenomic paradigm.

2Science without Borders
chapter abstract

Chapter 2 takes us into the world of social genomics, exposing the who, what, when, and where of the emerging science. It shows that social genomics is not a loose network of independent scientists who are working to benefit the greater good of the sciences more broadly and who have been stochastically drawn into genetic research as a result of shared concepts, methods, and expertise. Rather, it is a fast-evolving field with a great deal of unexamined influence due to its irreverence for discipline.

3Toward the "Deeper Descriptions"
chapter abstract

Chapter 3 shines a light on social genomics' foundational theory and methodology, including novel approaches like the multicohort GWAS and multivariate risk analysis, to show the ways the science innovates genetic explanantia and evolutionary theory. Scientists are currently training their attention on broader natural science debates, even in their attempts to usher in their methodology in the social sciences and to interpret the relevance of their findings for policy. Their focus is less on tackling deep social science conundrums or participating in policy analysis, and more on aligning with health and medical science.

4Determining Difference
chapter abstract

Chapter 4 reveals how sociogenomics is remaking societal notions of human difference in terms of the media as well as basic science characterizations of race, gender, and sexuality. This chapter builds on prior analyses of genome science to evince the ways that new avenues in sociogenomics privilege and perpetuate a genetically deterministic lens for human difference. It shows that troubling, biologically reductive definitions of race, gender, and sexuality thrive in a sociogenomic world.

5The Breakthrough
chapter abstract

Chapter 5 uncovers the central "positions and dispositions" of social genomics, including how participating scientists see their mandate vis-à-vis science writ large. It shows the ways researchers have formed a flexible matrix of specialized knowledge in an attempt to produce credible research innovations and conclusions about the genomics of behavior that can have an impact on bioscience and the wider public. As scientists have invested in the notion of moving theory and methods forward for all sciences, they have formed a confrontational style of practice that is characterized by a unique brand of pioneerism and optimism.

6A Bigger, Better Science
chapter abstract

Chapter 6 examines the impact social genomics is having on the wider world of science. It shows how the field is being received and interpreted by its vast array of collaborator fields, and prioritized by the major funding agencies of our time. This chapter similarly discusses key successes and challenges the field faces going forward, pertaining to funding, governmental support, and scientific publication.

7Applied Science
chapter abstract

Chapter 7 explores the uptake of sociogenomic applications by experts working in the public domain. Whereas use of genomic applications has largely been reserved for biomedical settings, sociogenomic applications have enjoyed adoption in criminal justice, education, and other legal arenas. This chapter presents the salience of sociogenomics for these domains, including how experts in the wider public understand and utilize it, and how the organizations, institutions, and fields they work in perceive its value. The chapter further uncovers key policy issues that scientists see as relevant in sociogenomics' expansion to new public arenas.

8The Business of Sociogenomics
chapter abstract

Chapter 8 presents the array of technologies and therapeutics that have arisen in the commercial domain of genes and behavior. From inborn talent tests to genomic matchmaking, a cottage industry in sociogenomic science has arisen to serve the rising Genome Generation. While only some of these tests have been a direct result of sociogenomic efforts, their usage contributes to the popularization of the sociogenomic paradigm in the mass public. This chapter details the ways the bullish strength of broader markets in personal genomic technology is spurring on sociogenomics as a valuable set of personal predictive indicators.

chapter abstract

The Conclusion draws together analyses from the preceding chapters to consider the meaning of the sociogenomic paradigm in society. Not only is sociogenomics a scientific orientation, a governmental framework, and a tool in the expert's toolkit; it is a popular lens for deciphering the individual, and a game-changer in public notions of human difference. The analysis ends by signaling meaningful ways that we can critically engage with sociogenomics so that socially responsible frameworks may take hold.

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