Of rats and women: Narratives of motherhood in environmental epigenetics
- 583 Downloads
Environmental epigenetics is the study of how environmental signals affect gene expression. Within this growing field of molecular biology, experiments on the epigenetic effects of ‘maternal care’ on offspring health have received much scientific and public attention and are often called upon to showcase how environmental epigenetics will create a new understanding of life as inherently ‘biosocial.’ While, on the one hand, this research is exciting and offers possible opportunities for collaboration between molecular biology and the social sciences, it is also necessary to consider its political dimensions. In this paper, we show how commonsense assumptions about sex, gender, sexuality, and class are present in the design, interpretation, and dissemination of experiments on the epigenetic effects of maternal care. As these experiments come to support claims about human motherhood through a dense speculative cross-traffic between epigenetic studies in rodents and psychological and epidemiological studies in humans, current research trends work to illustrate rather than interrogate existing stereotypes about maternal agency and responsibility. With this analysis, we offer a cautionary perspective regarding the potentials and challenges for new forms of collaborative biosocial knowledge practices emerging out of environmental epigenetics.
Keywordsepigenetics biosocial science collaboration feminist science & technology studies gender class
A first version of this paper was presented at the workshop “Epigenetics, Society & Gender” at the University of Vienna, June 22, 2012, organized by Sigrid Schmitz, Ruth Müller and Renee Schröder. We gratefully acknowledge the travel support for Martha Kenney that allowed us to start this project, and the inspiring discussions at the workshop. We would further like to thank the two anonymous reviewers and the editors for their constructive comments that helped improve the article, as well as Martyn Pickersgill and Cornelia Schadler for their valuable feedback during the writing process.
- Altzinger, W., Lamei, N., Rumplmaier, B., and Schneebaum, A. (2013) Intergenerationelle soziale Mobilität in Österreich. Statistische Nachrichten 68(1): 48–62.Google Scholar
- Balmer, A.S. et al (2015) Taking roles in interdisciplinary collaborations: Reflections on working in Post-ELSI Spaces in the UK Synthetic Biology Community. Science & Technology Studies 28(3): 3–25.Google Scholar
- Boero, N. (2009) Fat kids, working moms, and the “epidemic of obesity”: Race, class, and mother-blame. In: E. Rothblum and S. Solovay (eds.) The Fat Studies Reader. New York: New York University Press, pp. 113–120.Google Scholar
- Buffone, S. (2012) Towards an integrative theory of crime and delinquency: Re-conceptualizing the Farrington theory. International Journal of Criminology and Sociological Theory 5(2): 895–911.Google Scholar
- Bullard, R.D. (2011) Confronting environmental racism in the 21st century. In: A.H. Deming and L.E. Savoy (eds.) The Colors of Nature: Culture, Identity, and the Natural World. Minneapolis, MN: Milkweed Editions.Google Scholar
- Cameron, N.M., Champagne, F.A., Parent, C., Fish, E.W., Ozaki-Kuroda, K., and Meaney, M.J. (2005) The programming of individual differences in defensive responses and reproductive strategies in the rat through variations in maternal care. Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews 29(4–5): 843–865.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
- Collins, P.H. (1999) Black Feminist Thought: Knowledge, Consciousness, and the Politics of Empowerment, 2nd ed. New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
- Davis, A.Y. (1990) Women, Culture & Politics. New York: Vintage Books.Google Scholar
- Fausto-Sterling, A. (2000) Sexing the Body: Gender Politics and the Construction of Sexuality. New York: Basic Books.Google Scholar
- Fine, C. (2010) Delusions of Gender: How Our Minds, Society, and Neurosexism Create Difference. New York: W. W. Norton & Company.Google Scholar
- Fitzgerald, D., Rose, N., and Singh, I. (2014) Urban life and mental health: Re-visiting politics, society and biology. Discover Society, 13 January 2016, 2014.Google Scholar
- Fleck, L. (1979 (1935)) Genesis and Development of a Scientific Fact. Chicago/London: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
- Fox Keller, E. (1983) A Feeling for the Organism: The Life and Work of Barbara McClintock. San Francisco: W. H. Freeman and Company.Google Scholar
- Fox Keller, E. (1995) Refiguring Life: Metaphors of Twentieth Century Biology. New York: Columbia University Press.Google Scholar
- Haraway, D.J. (1989) Primate Visions: Gender, Race, and Nature in the World of Modern Science. New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
- Haraway, D.J. (1997) Modest_Witness@Second_Millennium.FemaleMan_Meets_Oncomouse: Feminism and Technoscience. New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
- Hubbard, R. (1979) Have only men evolved? In: B. Fried, R. Hubbard, and M.S. Henifin (eds.) Women Look at Biology Looking at Women. Cambridge: Schenkman Publishing Co.Google Scholar
- Meaney, M.J. (2004) The nature of nurture: Maternal effects and chromatin remodeling. In: J.T. Cacioppo and G.G. Berntson (eds.) Essays in Social Neuroscience: Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, pp. 1–14.Google Scholar
- Meaney, M.J., Liebowitz, M.L., and David Leonardo, E. (2015) Neurobiology of Anxiety Disorders. In: A. Tasman, J. Kay, J.A. Lieberman, M.B. First, and M. Riba (eds.) Psychiatry, 4th ed. West Sussex: Wiley, pp. 320–340.Google Scholar
- Moynihan, D.P. (1965) The Negro Family: The Case for National Action. Washington, D.C.: Office of policy planning and research. United States department of labor.Google Scholar
- Müller, R. (2014) Racing for what? Anticipation and acceleration in the work and career practices of academic life science postdocs. Forum: Qualitative Social Research 15(3): http://nbn-resolving.de/urn:nbn:de:0114-fqs1403150.
- Müller, R. (forthcoming) Biological determinism in the age of epigenetics: From genetic to environmental. Manuscript in preparation.Google Scholar
- Reardon, J., Metcalf, J., Kenney, M., and Barad, K. (2015) Science and justice: The trouble and the promise. Catalyst: Feminism, Theory, Technoscience 1(1): http://catalystjournal.org/ojs/index.php/catalyst/article/view/reardon_metcalf_kenney_barad.
- Reardon, S. (2015) Poverty shrinks brains from birth. Nature News, 30 March, 2015; doi: 10.1038/nature.2015.17227.
- Rice, S. (2007) The Encyclopedia of Evolution. New York: Facts On File.Google Scholar
- Richardson, S.S. (2015) Maternal bodies in the postgenomic order: Gender and the explanatory landscape of epigenetics. In: S.S. Richardson and H. Stevens (eds.) Postgenomics: Perspectives on Biology after the Genome. Durham: Duke University Press.Google Scholar
- Roberts, D.E. (1997) Killing The Black Body: Race, Reproduction, And The Meaning Of Liberty. New York: Pantheon Books.Google Scholar
- Roughgarden, J. (2004) Evolution’s Rainbow: Diversity, Gender, and Sexuality in Nature and People. Berkeley: University of California Press.Google Scholar
- Roughgarden, J. (2009) The Genial Gene: Deconstructing Darwinian Selfishness. Berkeley: The University of California Press.Google Scholar
- Schiebinger, L. (1993) Nature’s Body: Gender in the Making of Modern Science. Boston: Beacon Press.Google Scholar
- Spade, D. (2011) Laws as tactics. Columbia Journal of Gender and Law 21(2): 40–71.Google Scholar
- Stern, A. (2005) Eugenic Nation: Faults and Frontiers of Better Breeding in Modern America, 2nd ed. Oakland, CA: University of California Press.Google Scholar