presuppositions about human beings that are embedded in and underpin par-ticular practices. In this paper we focus upon one ofthese: the human being whois ‘genetically at risk’. This kind ofperson is born at the intersection ofat leastthree trajectories.
, we see the growing beliefthat many undesirable con-ditions – physical illnesses or behavioural pathologies – have a genetic basis. Thismay be in the form ofa ‘genetic mutation’ for a particular pathology such asPhenylketonuria or Huntington’s Disease, or it may be in a certain genetic make-up, which may involve many genes and their interactions with one another,which increases the likelihood that certain individuals will develop a particularcondition such as breast cancer.
, researchers claim that they have thecapacity to characterize the genetic sequences or markers associated with theoccurrence ofmany conditions at the molecular level and that this capacity willincrease. This arises, in particular, out ofthe use oflarge-scale databases thatintegrate DNA analysis oftissue samples with family histories and personalmedical records.
, doctors claim that they are increasingly able to identifyspecic individuals with the genetic make-up linked to the development ofpar-ticular conditions prior to their onset through diagnostic tests. This identi-cation may be precise, where genetic screening is able to identify the genes orpolymorphisms themselves. It may be probabilistic, where screening is based onthe identication ofgenetic markers associated with increased probabilities of being affected, or where identication is through family histories or the identi-cation offactors associated with the condition. These developments, and associ-ated mutations in personhood, re-shape the ways in which we are governed, andthe ways in which we govern ourselves.Re-cataloguing illness and pathologies along a genetic axis does not generatefatalism. On the contrary, it creates an obligation to act in the present in relationto the potential futures that now come into view. The discourses and practicesofgenetics here link up with those ofrisk. While hereditary knowledges havelong been associated with various forms ofrisk thinking, the availability ofpre-dictive and predisposition genetic testing introduces a qualitative new dimen-sion into genetic risk, creating new categories ofindividuals and accordinggenetic risk a new calculability. As a result ofthese new knowledges, individualsmay be specically identied as genetically at risk for a particular condition, andmay then be treated, by themselves, and by others ranging from employers andinsurance companies to future spouses and genetic counsellors, as iftheir natureand destiny was indelibly ‘marked’ by this genetic aw. In some cases they maybe treated as ifthey were virtually certain to develop a condition in its mostsevere form, despite the fact that the ‘penetrance’ ofthe genes may be unknown,that in most cases only a certain percentage ofindividuals in this class will sufferin this way, and that the timing ofonset and severity ofany disorder is unpre-dictable. Not only may such persons suffer various forms ofsocial stigma andexclusion from certain opportunities, services or benets, but they may also ndthemselves, voluntarily or involuntarily, under the aegis ofthe medical, psychi-atric or legal professions, and the subject ofvarious forms ofsurveillance ortreatment in the name ofprevention.
Economy and Society