Emergent Postgenomic Bodies and Their (Non)Scalable Environments

  • Megan Warin
  • Aryn Martin


The environment is an oft-cited term in postgenomics, ranging from references to environmental epigenetics in diverse geographical locations and historical times, to microbial habitats, intrauterine environments and maternal and molecular landscapes. Rather than approach the environment as a separate entity that interacts with others, in this chapter we draw upon Karen Barad’s concept of intra-action and Anna Tsing’s discussion of scales to rethink how enactments of environments emerge in different contexts. Through case studies of reproduction (fetal origins and microchimerism), we offer different contexts for rearticulating environments, not only in terms of the limits of binaries (nature/nurture, self/other and time and space) but also in terms of the dangers of scalability and postgenomic capacities to reduce the environment to individual risk in gendered and sexed bodies.


  1. Armstrong, Elizabeth M. 2008. Conceiving Risk, Bearing Responsibility: Fetal Alcohol Syndrome and the Diagnosis of Moral Disorder. 1st ed. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.Google Scholar
  2. Barad, Karen. 2001. Re(con)figuring Space, Time, and Matter. In Feminist Locations: Global and Local, Theory and Practice, ed. Marianne DeKoven, 75–109. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press.Google Scholar
  3. ———. 2007. Meeting the Universe Halfway: Quantum Physics & the Entanglement of Matter & Meaning. Durham: Duke University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. ———. 2014. Diffracting Diffraction: Cutting Together-apart. Parallax 20 (3): 168–187.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Barker, David, and Clive Osmond. 1986. Infant Mortality, Childhood Nutrition, and Ischaemic Heart Disease in England and Wales. Lancet 327: 1077–1081.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Bianchi, D.W., G.K. Zickwolf, G.J. Weil, S. Sylvester, and M.A. DeMaria. 1996. Male Fetal Progenitor Cells Persist in Maternal Blood for as Long as 27 Years Postpartum. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 93 (2): 705–708.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Boddy, Amy M., Angelo Fortunato, Melissa Wilson Sayres, and Athena Aktipis. 2015. Fetal Microchimerism and Maternal Health: A Review and Evolutionary Analysis of Cooperation and Conflict beyond the Womb. BioEssays 37 (10): 1106–1118.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Brusie, Chaunie. 2015. Research Proves a Part of Your Baby Remains in Your Body for Up to 38 Years. Accessed September 2016.
  9. Callard, Felicity, and Des Fitzgerald. 2015. Rethinking Interdisciplinarity across the Social Sciences and Neurosciences. Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave Macmillan.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Davies, Anthony J.S. 2012. Immigration Control in the Vertebrate Body with Special Reference to Chimerism. Chimerism 3 (1): 1–8.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Dawkins, Richard. 1989. The Selfish Gene. 2nd ed. Oxford: Oxford Paperbacks.Google Scholar
  12. Duden, Barbara. 1993. Disembodying Women: Perspectives on Pregnancy and the Unborn. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  13. Fitzgerald, Des, and Felicity Callard. 2015. Social Science and Neuroscience Beyond Interdisciplinarity: Experimental Entanglements. Theory, Culture & Society 32 (1): 3–32.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Fox-Keller, Evelyn. 2010. The Mirage of Space between Nature and Nurture. London: Duke University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Gadi, Vijayakrishna K. 2010. Fetal Microchimerism in Breast from Women with and without Breast Cancer. Breast Cancer Research and Treatment 121 (1): 241–244.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Gieryn, Thomas. 1999. Cultural Boundaries of Science: Credibility on the Line. Chicago: Chicago University Press.Google Scholar
  17. Gluckman, Peter, Wayne Cutfield, Paul Hofman, and Mark A. Hanson. 2005. The Fetal, Neonatal, and Infant Environments—The Long-Term Consequences for Disease Risk. Early Human Development 81: 51–59.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Griffiths, Paul, and Karola Stotz. 2013. Genetics and Philosophy: An Introduction. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Guthman, Julie, and Becky Mansfield. 2012. The Implications of Environmental Epigenetics: A New Direction for Geographic Inquiry on Health, Space, and Nature-Society Relations. Progress in Human Geography 37 (4): 486–504.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Hacking, Ian. 2002. Historical Ontology. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Hall, Judith. 2003. So you Think Your Mother is Always Looking Over your Shoulder?—She May be In your Shoulder! The Journal of Pediatrics 142 (3): 233–234.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Haraway, Donna. 1997. Modest_Witness@Second_Millennium. FemaleMan!_Meets_OncoMouseTM: feminism and technoscience. New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  23. Haig, David. 2014. Does Microchimerism Mediate Kin Conflicts? Chimerism 5 (2): 53–55.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Heerwagen, Margaret, Melissa R. Miller, Linda A. Barbour, and Jacob E. Friedman. 2010. Maternal Obesity and Fetal Metabolic Programming: A Fertile Epigenetic Soil. American Journal of Physiology 299 (3): R711–R722.Google Scholar
  25. Ingold, Tim. 2000. The Perception of the Environment. London: Routledge.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. ———. 2013. Prospect. In Biosocial Becomings: Integrating Social and Biological Anthropology, ed. Tim Ingold and Gisli Palsson, 1–22. New York: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Jablonka, Eva, and Marion Lamb. 1995. Epigenetic Inheritance and Evolution: The Lamarckian Dimension. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  28. Jablonka, Eva. 2004. Epigenetic Epidemiology. International Journal of Epidemiology 33: 929–935.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Kamper-Jorgensen, Mads, Henrik Hjalgrim, Anne-Marie Nybo Andersen, Vijayakrishna K. Gadi, and Anne Tjonneland. 2014. Male Microchimerism and Survival among Women. International Journal of Epidemiology 43 (1): 168–173.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Kenney, Martha, and Ruth Muller. 2016. Of Rats and Women: Narratives of Motherhood in Environmental Epigenetics. Biosocieties 12: 23–46. doi: 10.1057/s41292-016-0002-7.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Lamoreaux, Janelle. 2016. What if the Environment is a Person? Lineages of Epigenetic Science in a Toxic China. Cultural Anthropology 31 (2): 188–214.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Landecker, Hannah. 2011. Food as Exposure: Nutritional Epigenetics and the New Metabolism. BioSocieties 6 (2): 167–194.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Landecker, Hannah, and Aaron Panofsky. 2013. From Social Structure to Gene Regulation, and Back: A Critical Introduction to Environmental Epigenetics for Sociology. Annual Review of Sociology 39: 333–357.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Latour, Bruno. 1993. We Have Never Been Modern. Trans. Catherine Porter. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  35. Lock, Margaret. 2013. The Epigenome and Nature/Nurture Reunification: A Challenge for Anthropology. Medical Anthropology 32 (4): 291–308.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. ———. 2015. Comprehending the Body in the Era of the Epigenome. Current Anthropology 56 (2): 151–177.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Mansfield, Becky. 2012. Race and the New Epigenetic Biopolitics of Environmental Health. BioSocieties 7 (4): 352–372.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Mansfield, Becky, and Julie Guthman. 2015. Epigenetic Life: Biological Plasticity, Abnormality, and New Configurations of Race and Reproduction. Cultural Geographies 22 (1): 3–20.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Martin, Aryn. 2007. The Chimera of Liberal Individualism: How Cells Became Selves in Human Clinical Genetics. Osiris. (Issue on the Self as Political and Scientific Project) 22: 205–222.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. ———. 2010a. Your Mother’s Always with you: Material Feminism and Fetal Maternal Microchimerism. Resources for Feminist Research 33 (3–4): 31–46.Google Scholar
  41. ———. 2010b. Microchimerism in the Mother(Land): Blurring the Borders of Body and Nation. Body & Society 16 (3): 23–50.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Meloni, Maurizio. 2016. Political Biology. Science and Social Values in Human Heredity from Eugenics to Epigenetics. Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave Macmillan.Google Scholar
  43. Meloni, Maurizio, and Giuseppe Testa. 2014. Scrutinizing the Epigenetics Revolution. BioSocieties 9: 431–456.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Mol, Annemarie. 2002. The Body Multiple: Ontology in Medical Practice. Durham: Duke University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Morgan, Lynn Marie, and Meredith W. Michaels. 1999. Fetal Subjects, Feminist Positions. Philadelphia, PA: University of Pennsylvania Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Murphy, Michelle. 2006. Sick Building Syndrome and the Problem of Uncertainty: Environmental Politics, Technoscience, and Women Workers. Durham, NC: Duke University Press Books.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Niewohner, Jörg. 2011. Epigenetics: Embedded Bodies and the Molecularisation of Biography and Milieu. BioSocieties 6: 279–298.Google Scholar
  48. Olden, K., N. Freudenberg, J. Dowd, and A. Shields. 2011. Discovering How Environmental Exposures Alter Genes could Lead to New Treatments for Chronic Disease. Health Affairs 30: 833–841.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Pearce, Trevor. 2010. From ‘Circumstances’ to ‘Environment’: Herbert Spencer an the Origins of the Idea of Organism-Environment Interaction. Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences 41: 241–252.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Petchesky, Rosalind. 1987. Fetal Images: The Power of Visual Culture in the Politics of Reproduction. Feminist Studies 13 (2): 263–292.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Pickersgill, Martyn, Jorg Niewohner, Muller Ruth, Martin Paul, and Sarah Cunningham-Burley. 2013. Mapping the New Molecular Landscape: Social Dimensions of Epigenetics. New Genetics and Society 32 (4): 429–447.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Rapp, Rayna. 2011. Chasing Science: Children’s Brains, Scientific Inquiries, and Family Labors. Science, Technology and Human Values 36 (5): 662–684.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Reimer, Vanessa, and Sarah Sahagian. 2015. In The Mother-Blame Game, ed. Sarah Sahagian. Bradford, ON: Demeter Press.Google Scholar
  54. Reynolds, Andrew. 2007. The Theory of the Cell State and the Question of Cell Autonomy in Nineteenth and Early Twentieth-Century Biology. Science in Context 20 (1): 71–95.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. Richardson, Sarah, Cynthia R. Daniels, Matthew W. Gillman, Janet Golden, Rebecca Kukla, Christopher Kuzawa, and Janet Rich-Edwards. 2014. Don’t Blame the Mothers. Nature 152: 131–132.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. Richardson, Sarah. 2015. Maternal Bodies in the Postgenomic Order: Gender and the Explanatory Landscape of Epigenetics. In Postgenomics: Perspectives on Biology After the Genome, ed. Sarah Richardson and Hallam Stevens, 210–231. London: Duke University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Rose, Nikolas. 2006. The Politics of Life Itself: Biomedicine, Power, and Subjectivity in the Twenty-first Century. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
  58. Shostack, Sara, and Margot Moinester. 2015. The Missing Piece of the Puzzle? Measuring the Environment in the Postgenomic Moment. In Postgenomics: Perspectives on Biology After the Genome, ed. Sarah Richardson and Hallam Stevens, 192–209. London: Duke University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  59. Tabery, James. 2014. Beyond Versus: The Struggle to Understand the Interaction of Nature and Nurture. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  60. Tauber, Alfred I. 2008. The Immune System and Its Ecology. Philosophy of Science 75 (2): 224–245.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  61. The Sydney Morning Herald. 2006. Gulp…You Are What Grandma Ate. 18 November, 34.Google Scholar
  62. Tsing, Anna. 2000. The Global Situation. Cultural Anthropology 15 (3): 327–360.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  63. ———. 2012. On Nonscalability: The Living World is Not Amenable to Precision-Nested Scales. Common Knowledge 18 (3): 505–524.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  64. ———. 2015. The Mushroom at the End of the World: On the Possibility of Life in Capitalist Ruins. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  65. Warin, Megan, Tanya Zivkovic, Michael Davies, and Vivienne Moore. 2012. Mothers as Smoking Guns: Fetal Overnutrition and the Reproduction of Obesity. Feminism and Psychology 22 (3): 360–375.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  66. Warin, Megan. 2014. Material Feminism, Obesity Science and the Limits of Discursive Critique. Body & Society. 22: 48–76. doi: 10.1177/1357034X14537320.Google Scholar
  67. Warin, Megan, Vivienne Moore, Stanley Ulijaszek, and Michael Davies. 2015. Epigenetics and Obesity: The Reproduction Of Habitus Through Intracellular and Social Environments. Body & Society. 22: 53–78. doi: 10.1177/1357034X15590485.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  68. Waterland, Robert, and Randy Jirtle. 2003. Transposable elements: targets for early nutritional effects on epigenetic gene regulation. Molecular and Cellular Biology 23 (15): 5293–5300.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  69. Weatherford, Darling, Sara Ackerman Katherine, Robert Hiatt, Sandra Soo-Jin-Lee, and Janet Shim. 2016. Enacting the Molecular Imperative: How Gene-Environment Interaction Research Links Bodies and Environments in the Postgenomic Age. Social Science and Medicine 155: 51–60.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  70. Wilson Sayres, Melissa. 2013. Microchimerism: I am a Part of My Daughter, and She is a Part of Me. Accessed September 2016.
  71. Yong, Ed. 2015. Foetal Cells Hide Out in Mum’s Body, But What Do They Do? Accessed November 2016.
  72. Zavala, Juan, Coronado, Gabriela, and Bob Hodge. 2015. Biology, Semiotics and Complexity: The Development of Mexican Notions of Person. Institute for Culture and Society Occasional Paper 6.2. University of Western Sydney.Google Scholar
  73. Zivkovic, Tanya, Megan Warin, Michael Davies, and Vivienne Moore. 2010. In the Name of the Child: The Gendered Politics of Childhood Obesity. Journal of Sociology 46: 375–392.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Megan Warin
    • 1
  • Aryn Martin
    • 2
  1. 1.University of AdelaideAdelaideAustralia
  2. 2.York UniversityTorontoCanada

Personalised recommendations