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Editorial: What is special about the gene?

Editorial: What is special about the gene?

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Published by Igor Demić
The gene may be yesterday’s concept as far as science is concerned. However, it is
still alive in the popular imagination. It presents a rich challenge to humanities
disciplines in generating ideas and analytic perceptions. Furthermore, as the gene and
genomics escape the laboratory into everyday life and culture, they shape, and are shaped by, the world views of ordinary people.
The gene may be yesterday’s concept as far as science is concerned. However, it is
still alive in the popular imagination. It presents a rich challenge to humanities
disciplines in generating ideas and analytic perceptions. Furthermore, as the gene and
genomics escape the laboratory into everyday life and culture, they shape, and are shaped by, the world views of ordinary people.

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Published by: Igor Demić on Jun 29, 2013
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_____________ Genomics, Society and Policy, Vol.4 No.1 (2008) ISSN: 1746-5354 © ESRC Genomics Network. www.gspjournal.com

Genomics, Society and Policy 2006, Vol.3, No.2

Guest Editorial by ANDREW EDGAR & STEPHEN PATTISON Articles What is special about the gene? A literary perspective by DAVID AMIGONI Hybrid Vigour? Genes, Genomics, and History by ROBERTA BIVINS When biology goes underground: genes and the spectre of race by TIM INGOLD The Meanings of the Gene and the Future of the Phenotype by LENNY MOSS Genes and the conceptualisation of language knowledge by ALISON WRAY







Author Biographies


_____________ Genomics, Society and Policy, Vol.3, No.2 (2007) ISSN: 1746-5354 © ESRC Genomics Network. www.gspjournal.com


Genomics, Society and Policy 2008, Vol.4, No.1, pp.ii-iii

Editorial: What is special about the gene?
The gene may be yesterday’s concept as far as science is concerned. However, it is still alive in the popular imagination. It presents a rich challenge to humanities disciplines in generating ideas and analytic perceptions. Furthermore, as the gene and genomics escape the laboratory into everyday life and culture, they shape, and are shaped by, the world views of ordinary people. This in turn modifies the responses of individuals and groups as they engage with scientific and social developments and policies. While much of the discourse about genes and genetics beyond the laboratory is conducted in the language of decision-related and procedural ethics, or that of social analysis, there is a need to stand back and consider how deep, but not necessarily critically-articulated metaphors and understandings are constructed and affect the nature of perceived, taken-for-granted reality. In response to this challenge, a symposium was organised in September 2007 by the Centre for Applied Ethics at Cardiff University. The event emerged from co-operative work between the Centre for Applied Ethics, Cardiff’s School of Religious and Theological Studies, and Birmingham University’s Centre for Global Ethics, on a project entitled ‘The Meanings of Genetics’. This project explores the relationship between humanities disciplines and genetics. It asks what the humanities could contribute to understandings of genetic science and technology, and the manner in which these might be interpreted in, and impact upon, contemporary culture. It also attempts to engage with the challenges and opportunities that genetics and genomics pose for the humanities in terms of their methodologies and understandings of human being. A first symposium was organised in 2006, and its papers have already been published in Health Care Analysis. 1 Collected here are the contributions to the second symposium, where scholars from philosophy, history, English literature, cultural anthropology and linguistics, together with a poet, addressed the question: ‘What is special about the gene?’ Three key themes emerge from the symposium papers and discussions. First, it is clear that the old issues of genetic determinism and the nature/nurture debate continue to trouble humanities scholars, amongst others. In the present collection of papers, the contrasting approaches of linguist Alison Wray and anthropologist Tim Ingold in their respective papers are significant. While Wray explores the possibility that there may be genetic determinants to linguistic capacities, and that such determinants would have significant implications for educational policy, Ingold questions the coherence of the nature-nurture dichotomy, and thus the very possibility of a consistent notion of genetic determinism. Philosopher Lenny Moss’s exploration of competing concepts of the ‘gene’, and the indeterminism that holds between genotype and phenotype, adds to the consideration of this problem. A second, related theme concerns the politics of genetics and in particular the politics of identity. Genetics potentially challenges our understanding of who we are, and of
_____________ Genomics, Society and Policy, Vol.4, No.1 (2008) ISSN: 1746-5354 © ESRC Genomics Network. www.gspjournal.com ii

Society and Policy 2008. and thus shape the frameworks. ‘Mapping the Genome’. This problem is addressed most directly by David Amigoni in his reading of Ian McEwan’s novel Saturday. and would be pleased to receive any comments and expressions of interest in this work. Symmons Roberts. Vol. not least as ordinary people increasingly understand themselves as genetic beings. London: Jonathan Cape. 15 (1): 1-3. 2 Symmons Roberts worked with Sir John Sulston when he was sequencing the genome.4. the possible misunderstandings and ambiguities that exist between scientific and humanistic approaches to the gene remain to be explored adequately. humanities scholars. Corpus. within which contemporary selves. genomics. _____________ Genomics.4. Birmingham University 1 2 Y. We hope to organise follow-up events. communities and histories are understood. Health Care Analysis 2007. So. Cardiff University Stephen Pattison Department of Theology and Religion. together with rhetorical and metaphorical structures. He offered readings from his collections Raising Sparks and Corpus. Symmons Roberts. Raising Sparks. No. 2004. Vol.1. he reworks the metaphor of the lover mapping geographically the terrain of their beloved’s body in terms of the mapping of the beloved’s genome itself. He begins to figure the ways in which humanistic and artistic cultures can engage with the cultures of the natural sciences. Society and Policy. However. This kind of endeavour begins significantly to bridge the gap that may exist between scientific and lay understandings of the gene.Genomics. M. Moved by its beauty and poeticism. 1999. in a tribute to John Donne. Andrew Edgar School of English Communications and Philosophy. London: Jonathan Cape. for example. The symposium demonstrated the urgent need for the humanities to engage with and explore genetics and genomics. Egorova. The final theme concerns the different ways in which the gene and genome are understood by scientists. he has produced a number of poems relating genetics to love poetry. possibly opening up dialogue and public understanding. ‘Editorial’. Further symposia could fruitfully bring natural scientists and clinicians together with humanities scholars more directly. as genetic understandings become increasingly part of lay cultures. suggesting that the gene and genome can be understood as a source of historical information. to which the different humanities disciplines appeal in order to articulate the gene and its place in human culture. but it may increasingly become an important complement to them. M. Roberta Bivins explores the impact that genetics will have upon the methodology of the historian. www. pp.ii-iii our history. for good or ill. and history’.1 (2008) ISSN: 1746-5354 © ESRC Genomics Network. In ‘Hybrid vigour? Genes. No. This store may never replace more orthodox historical data sources. and the lay public.com iii . The papers herewith illustrate the diverse methods and conceptions. One contribution to the symposium that is not included in this volume are the poems of Michael Symmons Roberts.gspjournal.

Genetics. But in so far as knowledge of the gene is elaborated by scientific research. scientists. Introduction Literature.gspjournal.com 1 . in a sense.1 (2008) ISSN: 1746-5354 © ESRC Genomics Network. 95% like a chimpanzee is of little comfort.1. As Matt Ridley narrates in his book Nature Via Nurture (2003).1-11 What is special about the gene? A literary perspective DAVID AMIGONI 1 Abstract In answering the question 'what is special about the gene' from a literary perspective. it may be argued.H. knowledge of the gene may undermine this claim. Of course. in 1860 at the prospect of the latter’s being a mere 50% of simian descent. genetically. par excellence. is the form of expression par excellence both for claiming and exploring human exceptionalism. the fact that we are. 2 To think that Bishop Samuel Wilberforce taunted T. the article suggests that if literary appreciation is often seen as a mark of human exceptionalism. www. Huxley at the British Association for the advancement of Science. genetics is part of the ‘intransitive’ ontological domain which exists independently of human activity. This paper will survey some of the key ways in which the conversation has been. Society and Policy. Tracing some of the historical and philosophical complexities that circulate around the word 'gene'. then. this question has. the gene is a multi-faceted object of knowledge. as the critical realist Roy Bhaskar would argue. The work of Roy Britten in 2002 reduced the scale of the difference to around 5%. entering into the ‘transitive’ domain of human understanding that is both perspectival and saturated with multiple traditions of discourse and human activity. conducted (Section 1). It will explore the insistent philosophical and ideological complexities that condition ‘literature’ as an historically self-aware tradition of discourse in dialogue with disciplines and fields that constitute and demarcate objects of scientific knowledge. 3 How can literature ‘speak to’ genetics. having been posed again and again: ‘expressiveness’ has played no small part in the history of encounters between the evolutionary sciences and the seemingly ‘softer’ pursuits of philosophy and theology as modes of ‘literary’ discourse. as critical realism also recognises. the article argues that the literary craft may yet pose a distinctive challenge for the understanding of the place of genetics and literature in contemporary culture. in the late 1960s. which debunks the claim to human exceptionialism. pp. Oxford. Vol. the article argues that in one sense 'the gene' plays the lead role in the latest 'story' about heredity to preoccupy novelists. Vol. and genetics to literature? Of course.Genomics. Even so. on the other hand. may turn out to be the science.4. Reading Ian McEwan's recent novel Saturday (2005) in terms of the traditions of scientific and literary discourse that it draws upon and weaves together. No. and the literary and cultural historians who have researched their shared interests and mutual borrowings. and is being. already been answered. No. Society and Policy 2008. the work of Vincent Sarich and Allan Wilson indicated that close to 99% of the DNA in the human being is identical to that of a chimpanzee. 4 The dialogic work _____________ Genomics.4.

All of these theories and functions build on De Vries’s early sense of heredity conducted by pangens (hereditary material reused in different developmental programmes). based on a Watson-Crick recipe of DNA replicators. indeed it may not even be meaningful.com 2 . No. a gene may be conceived as a Dawkinsian survival machine. and named in 1909 by Wilhelm Johannsen (1857-1927). Society and Policy 2008. perhaps. No. As Richard Dawkins admits in his classic The Selfish Gene ‘it is not easy. to decide where one gene ends and another begins’. The decisively human part of us continues to be ‘made’ by our ‘exchange’ of information with the environment – what we have become used.Genomics. Vol.4.1. The gene is not. ensuring a healthy outcome in the expected environment. it is also hard to be definite about its borders and boundaries. and has come to see the gene as a device for extracting information from the environment. almost thirty years after its original publication. Vol. to describing as the work of ‘culture’. a means of ‘promoting’ and ‘enhancing’ a particular characteristic in a given bodily design. Yet despite its iconic power. using any genomic structure as a host for preserving itself on into the next generation. Dawkins’s observation continues to shape research. rather than chimpanzee. 6 Dawkins makes this comment as he describes the process of looking through a microscope at the 46 (23 pairs) human chromosomes. Finally. 5 If the gene has multiple functions. pp. and seven different functions – few of which contribute decisively to human exceptionalism. and culture. In a recent article about ‘gene autonomy’. the theory of the evolutionary psychologists Tooby and Cosmides embraces all of the above. The article will read Ian McEwan’s Saturday (2005) – a ‘literary’ fiction – as a dialogic act which explores the gene at the interface between what Bhaskar refers to as transitive and the intransitive domains (Section 2). wholly deterministic. Niall Dillon surveyed a history of the concept of the gene in making this opening point: Rediscovered in 1900 from the research of Gregor Mendel (18221884).gspjournal.4. this also links. and the traditional literary and philosophical frameworks that have sustained and validated accounts of human specificity and distinctiveness. fictions (in their broadest sense). there was a tension between the concept of the gene as a ‘unit of inheritance’ – _____________ Genomics. with genes strung out along them ‘in order’. Literature and Science: historical and philosophical perspectives What marginal effects do human genes play to make us human. it seems. McEwan is a novelist who interrogates the relationship between genetics as an ontological necessity. 1. to the medical theory of the gene as a health-giver. it remains a curiously nebulous entity that defies easy definition. First. preserving an ancestral past in the living organism.1-11 performed by literature reminds us that the intellectual life of the gene – that is to say the gene as a conceptual object disseminated by intellectual activity – is grounded in discourses. Society and Policy. A clearer degree of human specificity is made possible by the Jacob-Monod theory of the gene as a developmental switch. it is also a Mendelian archive. www. perhaps. the gene became one of the most influential scientific concepts of the 20th century.1 (2008) ISSN: 1746-5354 © ESRC Genomics Network. From the start. and what is a gene anyway? Matt Ridley identifies seven meanings of the word gene.

Both point to a certain degree of play at work in the making of the concept of the gene. Indeed. Vol.4. and that he refers to the ‘iconic’ power of the concept of the gene. and their work is consequently nuanced and inflected. I’ll explore this power in relation to what the philosopher Howard Caygill has referred to as ‘the culture of the gene’. www. In any event. Society and Policy. pp. The literary and textual analogues structure the way in which Roy Britten arrived at his conclusion that humans differ from chimpanzees by virtue of 5% of their DNA. But only some literary scholars would recognise themselves in such a set of analogies: for instance. I want to explore some of the tensions produced by this process of refinement and elaboration: the gene as either absolute determinant. No. That is why I’ve added the health warning to my discussion: a literary perspective. it is unnecessary to drive a wedge between them. Turning to the ‘literary’.gspjournal. Vol. No. molecular biologists had only focused on ‘substitutions – ie. while recognising that knowledge of that reality is historically relative and subject to refinement and elaboration. professional day-to-day field work that constitutes molecular biology and biochemistry as it seeks to research more deeply into the intransitive domain. 7 Dillon’s work contributes to the critical-realist aspirations of much scientific research: acknowledging genes as a necessary part of ontological reality. or receptor. insertion may be comfortingly recognisable to literary scholars as the very objects and concerns of their own scholarly pursuits. In Darwin’s Dangerous Idea (1995) Daniel Dennett grasped the workings of the Mendelian archive. prior to Britten’s work. yet which also interrogates the force of various mobilisations of the ‘literary’ in that culture. some literary scholars are theoreticians and deconstructionists.Genomics. deleting.4. as many critics bring together a blend between the two. one can note that the power of textual analogy plays a strikingly important role in the conceptualisation of modern genetics.1. his recent novel Saturday. 9 Dawkins’s Selfish Gene also uses bibliographic metaphors to describe chromosomes.1 (2008) ISSN: 1746-5354 © ESRC Genomics Network. I’ll use this to show how another ‘fiction’ by Ian McEwan. for literature is a complex field of critical possibilities and historical legacies. the copying mechanism of DNA. a transitive culture of metaphysical fictions that needs to be distinguished from the expert. He draws on the language of codes and substitutions. Society and Policy 2008. others are historicists.1-11 which was defined in purely operational terms as an autonomous unit that transmits specific traits through multiple generations – and the gene as a physical entity – whose position could be mapped in relation to other genes on the chromosome. letters in the text that are different between human and chimpanzee genes’. the gene as either autonomous unit of inheritance or real physical entity. For instance. The language of code. 8 It is an intervention that at once venerates the contexts of discovery of modern genetics. ‘the Library of Mendel’. Britten identifies the ‘textual deletions and insertions’ that increase the scale of the difference from 1 to 5%. and the acts of copying. by analogy with a textual and philological analogue that followed Borges’s imaginary ‘Library of Babel’. It is significant that Dillon should go back to the moment of ‘naming’ of the gene by Wilhelm Johannsen. As Ridley points out.com 3 . all literary criticism needs to be seen in the context of the histories and traditions of _____________ Genomics. bibliographers and historians of the book. intervenes into this ‘culture of the gene’. and Mendelian laws of inheritance.

to computer generated models of molecular activity derived from x-ray crystallography). 10 The disciplines that lent to its formation. This tendency to neo-Darwinian reductionism has perhaps pushed many scholars away from a Whiggish present in which the gene dominates. But the public. Young can be taken too far. which is genetics.4. since the ‘Sokal Affair’ hoax of 1996. Take my own period of specialisation. comparative anatomy. 11 But ‘pangenesis’ is fascinating nonetheless for what it says about Darwin’s interests in _____________ Genomics. Let’s keep with an historical perspective. and towards the more varied scientific tapestry of the past. Society and Policy. my reading of McEwan’s Saturday traces echoes of literary criticism’s long historical reflection on the relation between the affective power of poetry and morality. complexity and historicity. For literary scholars who have explored the literature and science relation. and another reason why the effects of the concept of the gene may not be uniquely special to us. there has been a tendency for leading proponents of the public understanding of science – such as the gene theorist Richard Dawkins – to homogenise thinking from across the Humanities and Social Sciences negatively as the product of ‘social constuctivism’ – the indefensibly reductive notion that science is just another form of textuality.4. and the semantic possibilities and constraints that they offer. but the structure and ideological leanings of theories of inheritance from the past. the nineteenth century.1. While the so-called ‘common culture’ thesis of the social historian of science Robert M. there is something about the intelligibility of nineteenth-century biology that continues to fascinate and in a curious way. For these theories cast light on the authority of theories at work in the present. No.1-11 discourse that continue to inform it. but depends also on speculative model building that relates to the deeply ‘unseen’ and ‘unseeable’ (from Crick and Watson’s early 1950s model helices of wood and metal. what work they perform. My own project seeks to move beyond reductionism.com 4 . and classification – depended to a large degree on evidence that was available to public display in its primary forms.Genomics. being transmitted to and out of the sexual organs – went precisely nowhere. and its apparent display of ‘a common culture’. Vol. Society and Policy 2008. what they ‘pass on’. historically-orientated literary scholars are often interested in the languages of inheritance within a scheme of ‘cultural heredity’: that is to say where these languages come from. The molecular biology of genetics is a science that requires not only high degrees of specialisation. they have focused on it in historically contextual terms.gspjournal. www. at least in its pre-1859 phase – geology. We should recall that Charles Darwin’s own theory of heredity – ‘pangenesis’ – that postulated the idea of gemmules that represented every aspect of a body. including acquired characteristics. It is important to stress this variety. both in humanistic and scientific critical pursuits. woven into a key moment of narrative crisis sparked by genetic malfunction in one of the novel’s characters. Howard Caygill makes the same point about the varied traditions philosophical and scientific thought that inform what he calls the ‘culture of the gene’. is often not so much the validity of the truth claims of the latest scientific theory of inheritance. pp. Vol. No. It is tempting to see a kind of contest at work here between two equally indefensible reductionist drives – the postmodern textual and the neo-Darwinian genetic. In fact. What interests literary scholars and cultural historians. perhaps reassure. and whether indeed they are passed on at all. justificatory languages of genetic science need to be seen in the same context. Indeed. and intensive laboratory resources.1 (2008) ISSN: 1746-5354 © ESRC Genomics Network.

for instance. for Weismann. one might say.Genomics. he claims that ‘the central idea I shall make use of was foreshadowed by A. Weismann’s theory was resolutely anti-Lamarckian. The English writer Benjamin Kidd in his influential degenerationist tract Social Evolution (1894) used the theory as a basis for concluding that the quality of populations would decline. Weismann in pre-gene days at the turn of the century—his doctrine of the continuity of the germ plasm’. politics and governance that resonated more widely in nineteenth-century culture. But.4. Let’s go back to that formulation of Dawkins in an attempt to illustrate this point: He refers to ‘pre-gene days’: how did we get to the naming of genes? When Dawkins refers to ‘pre-gene days’.com 5 . in the ‘timeline’ published on the website of Genome Network News. Society and Policy. To give another example: in the 1880s. information supported by the J. Cut off their heads and they simply proliferate’. entangled with the properly delimited scientific speculation about inheritance was a world of discourse about interdependence. www. ‘the whole power of soothing fictions lies in their hydra-like reproductive capacities. Society and Policy 2008. Degenerationists such as Kidd argued that the least ‘fit’ populations. in his conclusion to the first chapter of the Selfish Gene. but which could not be improved by external influence. of stories about reproduction and inheritance. and Darwin’s writings in general. Weismann’s work is not cited. and destined to pass on their ‘unfitness’ through the germ plasm. Weismann’s theory impacted on debates in Europe.1. 13 But it is important to recall there are competing stories of intellectual inheritance: to go back to Dawkins again. In other words. generation upon generation if natural logics of inheritance were permitted to continue unchecked. 14 There’s a further point to make here about the relationship between eugenics and genetics. pp. Vol. 15 Literary and cultural historians are precisely interested in the proliferating fictions associated with science. there is culturally a connection between genetics and eugenics. and a nineteenth-century idea about the body as a kind of confederated colony of organs. were in numerical supremacy. the German biologist August Weismann formulated his theory of the ‘continuity of the germ plasm’.gspjournal. eugenics. we could dismiss Weismann’s theory as superannuated. she continues. No. could be assimilated to Lamarckian theories of the inheritance of acquired characteristics. was effected by material that was passed reproductively from one generational body to another.1-11 pollen and buds as agents of heredity. For Kidd this necessitated positive action that would ensure and preserve the accumulation of ‘congenital variations above the average to the exclusion of those below’ – in other words.4. No. and to pretend otherwise is to seek to maintain ‘a soothing fiction’. in class terms. 12 In one sense. a topic that has been compellingly explored in a recent issue of the journal new formations (spring 2007). which aimed to select certain pools of germ plasm out of the reproductive equation. so it is not recognised as a milestone on the royal road to the discovery of DNA and the sequence of the human genome.1 (2008) ISSN: 1746-5354 © ESRC Genomics Network. Craig Venter Institute. I’m not for a moment suggesting that Dawkins is a eugenicist – he is manifestly not – but as Hilary Rose argues. the reproduction. Vol. by implication. acquired characteristics could play no corrective role. and. If Darwin’s theory of natural selection. Heredity. he is referring of course to the days prior to the successes of biochemical experimentation and microscopy that gradually identified the materials of _____________ Genomics. in particular debates about degeneration.

com 6 . ‘science’ fills the terrible gap left by ‘the death of God’ in the nineteenth century. and what he describes as ‘the culture of genetics’. and these have important implications for a story told. it may be objected by practising scientists that Caygill’s narrative is too grand by half. ostensibly. It was precisely this kind of framework of assumptions that enabled Johannsen to Platonise the late nineteenth-century findings of particulate inheritance into the ‘ideas’ of the ‘gene’. a new Platonism for the masses. Thus. it is the gene that figures as the unstable phenomenon. and the ‘phenotype’ – a metaphysical legacy that molecular biologists continue to observe yet be troubled by. ‘genotype’ (the particular genomic plan of the organism). It seems to me that _____________ Genomics. Following Nietzsche. ‘Neither the fear of the abolition of chance in a technical order of necessity.gspjournal. the ‘genotype’. or as he would put it. But he is also referring to a movement in scientific nomenclature. The physicians were to be re-admitted in the guise of philosophical legislators. science which reinvented a Platonic Christianity as a metaphysic of science. But he is careful to distinguish between the nuanced and workaday practices and findings of science. The term ‘gene’ was coined by Johannsen in 1909 – a point that Niall Dillon reminds us of in his article about gene autonomy (Nature 2003) – during a hectic period when biologists such as De Vries were formulating theories of particulate inheritance while rediscovering the work of Gregor Mendel. No. its ‘draft’ status could be said to interrogate. Johannsen’s work performed crucial work in naming the ‘gene’. ‘the first and last of the metaphysicians’ for Caygill. as a popular ‘culture of genetics’ demands greater and greater degrees of trust be placed in the metaphysic (your guilt or innocence in a murder case may be determined as true or not by the ‘idea’ of DNA). and the ‘phenotype’ (the particular and variable manifestation in a living individual). Vol. Society and Policy 2008. while being also the threat of the revenge of chance as it re-enters the order from which. in a productively fragmentary fashion. and popular culture of. which at once seems to promise the abolition of nature and chance (the totally engineered subject).4. and that he is indulging in ‘social constructivism’. Caygill’s analysis points to another reason why the concept of the gene is not unique: for genetics is just the most recent manifestation of a metaphysical affirmation of science and medicine.Genomics. Those sources are Plato and Nietzsche. two crucial philosophical traditions in answering the question ‘what is special about the gene’. Caygill wrote his ‘Drafts for a Metaphysics of the Gene’ in 1996. Of course. for supplementing nature with their particular brand of techne (much in the way that imitative artists did). 17 Caygill also reminds us that it was not only the artists who were expelled from the city in the Republic – it was the physicians too.1 (2008) ISSN: 1746-5354 © ESRC Genomics Network. In re-reading Plato and Nietszche. www.1-11 particulate inheritance that constitute modern genetics. it has been eliminated. Vol. Caygill’s analysis examines the triumph of science in the nineteenth century as a new faith in. Society and Policy. Caygill presents science as a Christian substitute. In twentieth-century genetics. In Caygill’s reading of Nietzsche. ostensibly constituted upon positivist foundations.4. Yet it is trust that is bestowed with ambivalence. 16 While it may seem to offer a grand narrative about the popularisation of science. but also those crucial terms in genetics. nor the fear of the revenge of chance against the same order have any real basis in the science. No. ‘drafted’ about the ‘culture of the gene’ by the philosopher Howard Caygill.1. pp. but have assumed considerable weight in the culture of genetics’.

www.com 7 . he mistakes him for an artist (Blair is made to comment that a painting mistakenly attributed to Perowne adorns a wall in Downing Street). in conclusion. A recollected image of this reading frames the reader’s first encounter with the education of Henry Perowne. to use Hans Reichenbach’s terms (subsequently adapted by Christopher Norris). Vol. context of discovery. but also the greats of scientific writing. Society and Policy 2008. Traditions of Discourse in Ian McEwan’s Saturday: fiction. I want to suggest. and a history of the expertise that he contributes to it. For McEwan’s fictive exploration of the relation between literature and genetics eschews any grand statements about human exceptionalism. literary narrative can place itself at the exploratory interface between these domains. meets Tony Blair at an official engagement. and a distracted Blair mistakes Perowne’s identity. the actual and the empirical. Daisy. Saturday stages a confrontation between the two expelled figures from the republic: the artist and the physician. ways. interestingly. Henry Perowne tends not to intellectualise his working life: a neurosurgeon whose specialisms are at once the molecular biologist’s knowledge of the micro-composites of life.Genomics. In a sense. Daisy has read English at Oxford. Society and Policy. and Bhaskar’s distinction between intransitive and transitive domains. Conrad). through a kind of education orchestrated by his daughter. 2.1 (2008) ISSN: 1746-5354 © ESRC Genomics Network. then literature can still be viewed as that privileged space where the ‘blurring’ of relations between the transitive and intransitive. and the engineer’s understanding of the body as a complex mechanism. If the philosophy of critical realism has to be clear and rigorous about the relative stratifications that separate the real. but carefully circumscribed. his fiction works to suggest something vaguely disturbing about the human ‘gift’ for apprehending literature as a mode of affective power. Tolstoy. a kind of homage to the Modernist literature of the city represented most obviously by Woolf’s Mrs Dalloway. No. Vol. literature and science. can be exploited as different traditions of discourse clash and meld. As Perowne re-awakes on Saturday _____________ Genomics. that Saturday by Ian McEwan – an imitative artist who is also deeply attracted by the techne of science and medicine – explores the ‘culture of genetics’ by engaging with the relationship between these ‘transitive and intransitive’ domains. and their competing claims. McEwan nonetheless shows him striving to develop an understanding of the affective dimensions of the culture that he inhabits. especially in the context of one of the meanings of the word gene: a switch or cultural receptor for mediating information between organism and environment.1-11 Caygill implicitly draws a distinction between. in fact.4. Of course. a neurosurgeon Henry Perowne.gspjournal. genetics and poetry Saturday is an urban fiction. 19 It is also possible to see Saturday as a fiction that asks questions about who will legitimately legislate for the city. The governance of the appointed legislators is in one sense farcically detached and ineffective: the central character. McEwan’s evolutionism finds Platonic questions about the governance of the ideal city-state no longer answerable. pp. 18 While fictions of the iconic status of the gene figure in powerful. and context of justification. and is a young published poet: she is determined to educate her father in the literary canon (Flaubert. ‘literary’ fictions participate in the culture of genetics in challengingly complex ways.1. No. in one sense.4.

and. and can never escape (p. when a nineteenth-century device is brought to final perfection in the early years of the twenty first. when the unprecedented wealth of masses at serious play in the unforgiving modern city makes for a sight that no previous age could have imagined. McEwan brings literature and science into cultural contest: Saturday is a day in the life of a professional man on his day off.1 (2008) ISSN: 1746-5354 © ESRC Genomics Network. and a ‘summary of the concluding pages [of the Origin]. death and destruction. morality is shaped. No. Wren. into the path of another car. but so too are Perowne’s attempts at Modernist epiphanies. Society and Policy 2008. Society and Policy.168). or feel it. a fiction that owes much to Woolf’s Mrs Dalloway: ‘this moment’ is an intertextual echo. accidentally. The evolution of the city. pp. Of course. or in his case thwarted. and the science that has shaped modern culture. it still poses the question: if we come to know the justification of the neurosurgeon’s techne (we hear of Perowne’s skills in the operating theatre. how out of war. The minor collision brings Perowne into _____________ Genomics. as he himself comes gradually to realise.55). No.4. the realist surgeon cannot enter into the way of seeing mastered by his lyrical daughter. in historical terms. life forms. Surely. dislodging its wing-mirror. flash through Perowne’s mind again as he becomes stuck in a traffic jam in London: McEwan sets Saturday on the day in February 2003 when up to a million people took to the streets of London to demonstrate against the impending invasion of Iraq. and read sleepily in the bath the night before. Willis – those clever. the closing paragraph of the Origin of Species. But his attempt to do so is haunted. amended in later editions’ (p. The section of the biography he reads is about ‘the dash to complete the Origin’. and even cities have evolved. Boyle. and the illustrious traditions of scientific enquiry that have forged the present. this is from Darwin. It leads to Perowne’s reflection on the creation story told by evolution. www. Contexts of discovery and contexts of scientific justification seem to mingle together in the verbalised consciousness of Perowne.1. Perowne tries to take in the scene as it might have been seen by those ‘curious men of the English Enlightenment’ who gave birth to his world view. Hooke. a phrase passes through his mind: ‘There is grandeur in this view of life’. his expertise in molecular biology and bodily engineering).gspjournal.com 8 . Ordinary people! Rivers of light! He wants to make himself see it as Newton might.1-11 morning following his disrupted sleep in the early hours. or his contemporaries. He can’t feel his way past the iron weight of the actual to see beyond the boredom of a traffic tailback … He doesn’t have the lyric gift to see beyond it – he’s a realist. what does literature do. While Saturday is a novel in which texts that construct and enrich our literacy actually play a significant role. by literary possibilities that Daisy understands only too well: He tries to see it. how does it speak within a culture saturated by genetic science? The question begins to be answered as Perowne steers his car away from the jam. ‘Ordinary people! Rivers of light!’ But it’s a stand off. Vol.Genomics. this moment in the last decades of the petroleum age. unconsciously recalled second hand from the biography that Daisy has ‘set’ him to study (Daisy conducts her relationship with her father rather in the manner of a tutorial).4. curious men of the English Enlightenment who for a few years held in their minds nearly all the world’s science. they would be awed … But he can’t quite trick himself into it. Vol.

A. What McEwan produces here is a curious kind of parody of literature’s civilising mission.94) Perowne offers his expert diagnosis. It seems to me no coincidence that this moment turns on the understanding of an Arnold poem. More than forty repeats of that one little codon and you’re doomed. to a squash match. exposing them to unidentified poems which they were asked to close-read. It’s beautiful. Perowne finds many associations. Daisy and his son. exploiting. www. (p. You know that.Genomics. All thoughts of rape dissipate as he says ‘”You wrote that… it’s beautiful. The reader oversees fragmented images grasped during the recital from Perowne’s perspective. Here’s biological determinism in its purest form. Perowne notes ‘muscular restlessness’ in Baxter’s face and. Society and Policy. don’t you. of I. he does not ‘tell’ that the poem being recited is ‘Dover Beach’. It is in this context that McEwan finally ‘answers’ the question of what literature does.com 9 . transformed by a literary conversion.1. but of the magical. the biochemist and engineer in him immediately reaches this diagnosis: Chromosome four. Culture and Anarchy (1869). No. a further parody. But it is borrowed time. Arnold being also the author of that great Victorian statement about the civilising mission of literature. The twitching.4. then it is a literary recital that shapes the second.gspjournal. it is unwise to abuse the shaman’ (p. in the discourse that is recited. Richards’s ‘experiments’ with Cambridge undergraduates in the 1920s. and the episode ends in Baxter’s humiliation as he loses command of his henchmen. not the metaphysical. and it turns the situation. Vol. many ‘subject positions’ from his life and his sense of Daisy’s life. In narrating the episode. becomes a kind of cruelly ironic Arnoldian best self. she follows instead Grammaticus’s cue and recites Matthew Arnold’s ‘Dover Beach’. Vol. the poet John Grammaticus. And you wrote it”’. passing it off as her own.1 (2008) ISSN: 1746-5354 © ESRC Genomics Network. but will be made to pay. Daisy refuses the invaders’ sexual taunts to read one of her ‘dirty’ poems from the set of proofs (entitled My Saucy Bark) that sit upon the table. Perowne does not know and cannot identify the poem as Arnold’s. and a knife threatening her. He does so later in the day as the family dinner with Perowne’s father in law. in an excessive repeat of a single sequence – CAG. If Perowne’s ‘magical’ knowledge of ‘biological determinism’ shapes the first reversal of Baxter’s behaviour. his henchmen. Your future is fixed and easily foretold … nightmarish hallucinations and a meaningless end. No. ‘simian’-like Baxter. Perowne drives off. However. and the moment for violence. and which continues to haunt the legitimating strategies of modern science: ‘They are together … in a world not of the medical. When you are diseased. This is how the brilliant machinery of being is undone by the tiniest of faulty cogs. The episode is especially rich because of the way in which McEwan translates a lyrical moment into the stuff of storytelling. and threaten Perowne with a beating when he resists. McEwan seems to _____________ Genomics. The misfortune lies within a single gene. so frequently rehearsed in the nineteenth century and since.4.95). pp.1-11 the lower social orbit of Baxter and two other petty criminals who use the occasion as an attempt to extort money. wracked by mood swings triggered by faulty genes. Society and Policy 2008. perhaps. is shattered when Rosalind Perowne returns from work with Baxter. (p. but indeed the magical thinking that hovers below the metaphysical justification of the patient-doctor relationship.222).

McEwan’s fiction.gspjournal. or the intransitive domain of ontological necessity. from a literary perspective. Ridley. No. for the appreciation of poetry. 24-5. contributes powerfully to the transitive domain of literary and cultural activity. or literature as culture’s flagship. Perhaps this is the point: while Caygill has identified a metaphysical ‘culture of the gene’ which does indeed exert a powerful and at times ideologically constraining effect in the popular understanding of science. At the same time. School of Humanities. In one sense this demonstrates a key claim of this article: that. a character determined by heredity. and the antithesis of reductionism. Society and Policy 2008.1-11 be suggesting that the civilising process that the poem effects upon Baxter is only one kind of affective response. draws upon historically constituted traditions of discourse. relatively: that Baxter and Perowne ‘hear’ such different versions of the poem suggests that there is no universal genetic ‘programme’ underwriting literary apprehension as some reductive modes of neo-Darwinian have been inclined to argue. to be sure: but critical openings.amigoni@keele. as a practice exercised by a masterful practitioner such as McEwan. But it also does so contingently. London. it could be argued that Baxter’s faulty gene becomes both a ‘switch’. generate more subtle challenges to received meanings. and receptor. This is hardly a surprising or indeed unsettling conclusion to reach. Literature multiplies the positions available for judgement and response.1. Vol. McEwan’s fiction playfully mobilises their varied meanings: the gene as ancestral archive which condemns Baxter to a terrible fate.Genomics. I would argue. but also the gene as switch and receptor which precisely generates culture in its profoundly intransitive modes. Something that ‘begins’ in genetics.4. a descendant of the fiction of Gissing and Zola. there is of course something wonderfully inventive and distinctive about the particular workings of McEwan’s fictive exploration of genetics: it does not provide us with unshakeable ground from which to judge the respective claims of the transitive and intransitive domains. Fourth Estate.ac. Keele University d. I am grateful to the two referees whose comments helped me to re-shape aspects of this argument. Consequently we have to make meanings out of the contingencies explored by narrative practice.210) – the Library of Babel is characterised by indeterminacy. pp. Nature Via Nurture: Genes. 20 We return then to those varied ‘meanings’ of the gene that Matt Ridley has codified in Nature Via Nurture. 10 _____________ Genomics. Baxter is made from the naturalist tradition of European fiction. there is nothing particularly special about the gene because it constitutes the most recent episode in a long and inconclusive story about the nature of heredity. www. 2003. Society and Policy. literature as an effect. in presenting these different meanings. But he is also touched by those influential discourses of culture and aesthetics that have presented themselves as the antithesis of scientific determinism. Indeed.uk M. leads us to awkward and conflicting meanings. But McEwan’s fiction does.com .4.1 (2008) ISSN: 1746-5354 © ESRC Genomics Network. Vol. and ironically it works most powerfully on the most genetically faulty and deranged person present. If the Library of Mendel has inscribed an irrevocable genetic script for Baxter – ‘It is written’ (p. Experience and What Makes Us Human. the stories that we have inherited about the relations between naturalistic and social inheritance. in fact it blurs the boundaries between the two. 1 2 English. No.

6 R. Dillon. Barash. 3. 56. Saturday. ‘The Luxury of Storytelling: science. Amigoni. Vol.P.1-11 For an account see A. Manchester University Press. http://tekhnema. Dean.15 16 H. 13 http://www. 4 For a recent account of the importance of Bhaskar’s work. Norrie. Darwin’s Metaphor. 60: 13-26. Young.fr/3Caygill. No. 2005. 15 H. Desmond & J.4. 1894.org/resources/timeline/ (consulted 14. Tekhnema: A Touch of Memory. Huxley: From Devil’s Disciple to Evolution’s High Priest. www. K. new formations: critical realism today 2005. Harmondsworth. Barash & N.Genomics.11. Madame Bovary’s Ovaries. Jonathan Cape. Penguin. p. see.06. cit. 1998. and the present state of the critical realist tradition. Forthcoming. 2nd edition. All further page references to this work will be given in parentheses in the main text. p. Positions Please: On Gene Autonomy. 19 I. Darwin. note 2. 9 Ridley. 8 Some of the material I use in my reading of Saturday will also appear in a much fuller consideration of McEwan as a novelist who explores scientific ideas. Society and Policy 2008. pp. 3 _____________ Genomics. p. and contemporary scientific culture.531-2. 1997. pp. Rose.R.htm (consulted 18. Macmillan.36-7. 5 Ridley.12. Nature. 20 See for instance D. 425: 457. New Idols of the Cave: on the limits of anti-realism.gspjournal. Oxford. 11 A. London. p. 2005.genomenewsnetwork. Oxford University Press. Eugenics and Genetics: the conjoint twins? new formations: eugenics old and new 2007. cit. p. McEwan. Dean & A. Kidd. Drafts For a Metaphysics of the Gene. note 2.1 (2008) ISSN: 1746-5354 © ESRC Genomics Network. Dawkins. J. In my account here I implicitly draw on Auguste Comte’s nineteenth-century teleological conception of positivism as an integrated approach to both scientific knowledge and social organisation which had moved beyond ‘metaphysics’ as an evolutionary stage in human development. note 6. Vol. Ruston (ed. No. Cambridge.com 11 . and that it is often loosely used by literary and cultural historians. 1990. op.) Literature and Science: Essays for the English Association 2008. Delacorte Press. p. 1996. 192. literature and cultural contest in Ian McEwan’s narrative practice’. op cit. Social Evolution London.07) 17 I recognise that positivism is a complex term. 278-9.1. Society and Policy.5. 1989.4. op.247. New York. chapter 9. Cambridge University Press.07) 14 Dawkins. 12 B.22 7 N.free. S. Harmondsworth. Caygill. Norris. Moore. Manchester. 1985. The Selfish Gene.M. See D. Desmond. pp. 18 C. Nature’s Place in Victorian Culture. 10 See for instance R. Penguin. 2003. esp. eds.24.

and political. ethnicity. are more than sceptical of the claims of genetic determinists: many are deeply ambivalent or openly apprehensive about what has been called the ‘geneticization’ of society. and the implications – the significance – of the gene (and its corollary scientific disciplines and approaches) specifically to historians. in looking at the meaning. www. historians have examined eugenics movements of the 20th century. But historians. and History ROBERTA BIVINS 1 Abstract Is the gene ‘special’ for historians? What effects. assumptions. Allen in 1997.12-22 Hybrid Vigour? Genes. Genomics. and evolution) on public conceptions of history itself. No.1. I will explore the impact of the ‘gene’ and genetic understandings (of.” 3 So wrote the renowned historian of biology. I will examine the ways in which historians have thus far approached genes and genetics. pp. if any.4. I will focus on two aspects of the discourse. But historians and geneticists view history and genetics very differently – and assume very different relationships between them. science studies. There is considerable overlap between the subject matter of genetics/genomics and many of the most widely used analytic categories of contemporary historiography – race. I am sceptical. Society and Policy 2008. What does this indicate or suggest? Second. and indeed the nature and meanings of ‘history’ differ yet again.4. has the notion of the ‘gene’ had on our understanding of history? Certainly. about claims of a genetic basis for any specific social behaviors. _____________ Genomics. and models of human heredity. sexuality. the body. First. as well as in anthropology. Historical studies of genetics reflect – and explain – their unease. and indeed the biological and medical sciences. Vol. Garland E. among others. particularly of science and medicine. identity. the family. If genetics cannot explain even the ‘social behaviours’ of individuals. then clearly the gene has little to say about history. (dis)ability. and cultural) responses to genetic claims. sociologists and ethicists. health. 4 and through explorations of societal (and economic. genomics. there is a widespread public and professional perception that genetics and history are or should be in dialogue with each other in some way. for example. And Allen’s scepticism about the claims made for genetics as an efficient cause or an explanatory system is widely shared by scholars in history.Genomics. Decoding genetics: Historical approaches to the gene “I confess that from my experience as both an historian and someone who writes a great deal about current work in genetics. Vol. Here. 2 Only two historical sub-disciplines have engaged with the rise of genetics to any significant degree: the histories of science and of medicine. Society and Policy.com 12 . Historians have explored the gene both through studies of its scientific emergence. Yet the impact of genetics and genomics on society has been studied principally by anthropologists.gspjournal. sociology. And public perceptions of genes. No. genetics. gender.1 (2008) ISSN: 1746-5354 © ESRC Genomics Network. I would even say biased. and the impact such studies have had on the field. disease. 5 Perhaps most disturbingly.

4. working in the field of science and technology studies.1. 9 All in all. No. homosexuality. The commonsense of their day. these assumptions shaped the research designed to test them. Society and Policy 2008. As the science of genetics (and subsequently genomics) gained broader and wider explanatory powers in relation to human variation. whether positive or negative.gspjournal. pp.com 13 . or criminal violence. historical comparisons suggest ominous similarities between these claims and those of their eugenic predecessors. geneticized models of human culture and human history. and fear that eugenic thought continues to underpin genetic science and genetic medicine.1 (2008) ISSN: 1746-5354 © ESRC Genomics Network. where ‘biology’ became ‘destiny’ in ways profoundly limiting for women. industriousness. say. has recently demonstrated (coincidentally displaying the traction historians could gain by actively engaging with the anthropological and science studies literatures). underground. It is therefore unsurprising that historians like Garland Allen and Daniel Kevles are suspicious of contemporary scientists’ claims to have found the genes for. www. laziness. and criminality – as well as physical ones were biologically inherited. but also stupidity.12-22 including the role of eugenic thinking in the Holocaust. consider the congested historical intersection between ideas of race and ideas of biological heredity. Many prominent post-war scientists explicitly denied biological ‘race’. 8 Via biography and autobiography. Vol. and related study of the ways in which genetics could facilitate the construction of a normative biology. 6 Eugenics. our futures. the history of medicine. ‘race’ as an explanatory model could disappear linguistically. reinscribed in politically neutral terminology. what risks then are likely to lie in seeking to understand ourselves and our pasts through our genes? In my own historical field. while persisting intellectually: biological and medical use of ‘race’ as a category of analysis went. relied on assumptions that social traits – for instance. The idea that our capabilities. in forced sterilization campaigns. the history of genetics has also yielded exemplary accounts of gender bias in modern science. and governed by genes. Vol. and the interpretation of the data produced by those trials. 10 These traits make it extremely difficult to pin down. existing historical scholarship on the gene and genetics leaves little ground for optimism about the effects of our current cultural fascination with hereditarian. moment by historical moment. In severing the direct _____________ Genomics. intelligence. has historically proven a dangerous one. Jenny Reardon.Genomics. the impact of the gene and the genetic trope on medical research and practice is clearly visible. the meaning of race to scientists and within the scientific literatures. even our souls are encoded in our genes. the polysemic flexibility and consequent durability of the concept and category ‘race’ within the scientific disciplines that have focused on heredity. Thus scientists and medical researchers could retain the analytical power of ‘race’ without the taint of racism. Other historical approaches have included the study of the gene as a 20th century marker of ‘biological determinism’ (tainted in historical terms by its use in sociobiology. and other marginalized groups). Society and Policy. No. Experiments constructed under these circumstances ‘naturally’ validated existing beliefs about both marginalized and privileged groups – and the evidence they produced was readily accepted as objective despite its poor quality. As an example to illustrate the problem. 7 Simply put. cultural and historical phenomena extends far more widely. honesty. if as yet relatively unexplored – but the influence of genetic understandings of social.4. non-whites. as it were. and thus genetics. and in enabling the other tragic outcomes of negative eugenics programmes.

12-22 connection between the life sciences and racial thought.gspjournal. the science-trained commentator here. It is also evident that a true understanding of disease risk requires us to go well beyond these weak and imperfect proxy relationships. and states that they must be addressed – but note his conservatism. www. pp. Think for example of the long-contested status of the link between smoking and lung cancer. in which biological race determines susceptibility to particular diseases. and draw attention to indirect. Collins also cautions: “If only genetic factors are considered. and indeed some public health models of disease causation often present a far stronger programme. makes several key points.Genomics.or mediumterm. On one hand. social) causation as well: “if we are not satisfied with the use of imperfect surrogates in trying to understand hereditary causes. Vol. Sickle cell anaemia (SCA) was first identified as a specific condition in 1910.” Historically.1 (2008) ISSN: 1746-5354 © ESRC Genomics Network. rather than its less accessible and historically documented practices. Epidemiological data necessarily often document proxy relationships.4. 13 Collins. cultural. On the genetic side … race is an imperfect surrogate for ancestral geographic origin. He identifies the flaws in current exclusively genetic models of race and race-linked morbidity. No.1. 14 If only ‘perfect’ data and direct biological links are to be used in health policy making. commercial. it persists. behaviours and morbidities. No.4. popular. Society and Policy. it is apparent why self-identified race or ethnicity might be correlated with health status. then we should not be satisfied with them as measures of environmental causation either. And if we are not satisfied with the use of imperfect surrogates in trying to understand hereditary causes. and application of the scientific methodology to ‘environmental’ (in other words. the public can expect little protection or advice in health matters in the short. clinical and research geneticists argue vociferously that self-identified race is only a ‘weak surrogate’ for a host of more complicated factors in morbidity. they also disrupted historical analyses that have been heavily dependent on the language of science. This neat solution to the problem of ‘race’ for scientists was pioneered in the 1950s.” History can tell us much about the implications of this kind of gene-thinking. _____________ Genomics. all of which can influence disease risk. with its stress on absolute certainty and one-to-one correlations of cause and effect. the dangers of this approach are all too obvious. Society and Policy 2008. through genetic or nongenetic surrogate relationships or a combination of the two. by Chicago physician James Herrick. educational and economic variables.com 14 . 15 As a rare condition prevalent only in underprivileged minority populations. as the cases of sickle cell anaemia and thalassaemia illustrate. but nonetheless persuasive and relevant links between substances. 12 On the other. which in turn is a surrogate for genetic variation across an individual's genome… Considered in this context. Vol. Even geneticists adamant that ‘race’ is at best a proxy for authentic sources and markers of genetic difference make assumptions about the (biological and material) nature of those hypothetical authentic signs: On the nongenetic side … race carries with it certain social. then we should not be satisfied with them as measures of environmental causation either. only genetic factors will be discovered. 11 Today.

Only in the 1970s did more nuanced approaches to SCA and other conditions associated with (but not limited to) specific ethnic groups become the norm. In part through this work on the metaphors and constitutive imagery in genetics and genomics. 20 Today. By the 1930s.gspjournal. and just waiting to be read by genetic and genomic scientists. it forms and reveals the intellectual structures through and within which scientists conceive their experimental and disciplinary programmes. certainly. Vol. but by the cellular phenomenon of ‘sickling’ was already established. of returning to models in which the presence or absence of the genetic mutations associated with sickle cell anaemia or thalassaemia determines ‘race’ or ethnicity. 17 Stigmatized in the US as a sign of African-American ‘racial degeneration’. self-identification. including distinctions between sickle cell disease (SCD) and sickle cell trait (SCT). No. trumping family history.4. The headline of a 2005 article in the respected UK newspaper The Guardian was blunt: “All of human history can be written with four letters”. historians of science concerned with gender (most influentially Evelyn Fox Keller and Donna Haraway) have used molecular genetics and genomics as sites at which to explore the impact of gender on scientific thought. 21 History may have yet more to gain through tackling ‘geneticization’ head on. racialized stigma remained. www. and the content of the sciences themselves. as was a complete identification of the disease with an ‘African’ origin.12-22 sickle cell anaemia triggered little clinical or biological interest. And yet the study of the history of genetics has done much for the histories of science and medicine. programmes of research. “to warn the public as a preventive measure that the debilitating genetic disease known as sickle cell anaemia. the presence of SCA in a family was taken as irrefutable evidence of ‘Negro blood’ through the 1950s.4. wrote one British Member of Parliament (well-known for his racist views). and paradigm-formation. 16 By this point. the language of science has been recognized as being more than merely didactic. It seems likely that the discipline of history stands to lose at least some of the ground it has gained in terms of inclusivity and accessibility – largely through the growth of social history – if we ignore the impact of genetics on popular social and cultural understandings of history and the historical. Their work substantially enhanced the credibility of gender as a force in the development (and tool for the exploration) of the scientific professions. genomes. 22 The _____________ Genomics. we are at risk of slipping backward. risk.Genomics. geneticists and the human past If the media are to be believed. smallscale studies identified the condition as genetically linked.1 (2008) ISSN: 1746-5354 © ESRC Genomics Network. the trend of identifying the disease not by its symptoms. For example. Society and Policy 2008. No.1. pp. and better defined its pathology. one written and embedded in the human body itself. Vol. “What steps are being taken”. not present in the indigenous population of Great Britain. medical anthropology and medical sociology have captured new audiences – particularly in relation to health and science policy – through their direct engagement with the impact of genetics and genomics on lay attitudes towards health. and identity. Rather. Society and Policy. there is a new kind of history out there. or pluralist ideas of individual heritage and selfhood. History through a genetic lens: Genes. can be inherited by the offspring of racially-mixed unions?” 19 The same MP sought the segregation of the national blood banks.com 15 . 18 Even – perhaps especially – after the specific genetic point mutation that produces SCT/SCA had been identified.

Sally Hemings.Genomics. leaning heavily on the traditions of sociobiology. Vol.” 23 Publicists.4. Sally Hemings. and ignored as either tendentious or merely contentious by many historical texts and textbooks. Experts at the University of Leicester found Jefferson's Y chromosome belongs to the rare 'K2' class. DNA testing confirmed the oral historical traditions of one branch of the Jefferson clan that they were the descendants of a child born to Jefferson and his slave. the computer-generated graphs and the maps was an innocuous string of letters. like journalists. On one hand. Consider. in the late 1990s. pp.” This is hardly the transparent window onto the past that one might have expected from the breathless narrative that preceded it. genetic work suggests. Finally.1 (2008) ISSN: 1746-5354 © ESRC Genomics Network. a complete history. No. the resources created to test claims of Jeffersonian paternity have now yielded new ‘facts’.com 16 . Under the headline “Starch ‘fuel of human evolution’”. Thomas Jefferson. Society and Policy 2008. or even material culture or archaeological finds) to do away with ‘prehistory’ and the ‘prehistoric’.12-22 body of the article itself reveals the tension inherent in this view.” But only a sentence or two later. this genetically inscribed past is presented as a corrective to the errors and biases of its more traditional analogue. and some family secrets.4. if only because the use of such claims for mass marketing clearly illustrates the perceived appeal of a ‘scientific’. the reporter/protagonist describes the “piece of paper” which seemingly reveals all: “Among the multicoloured lines. which provides concrete evidence about the spread of cultural innovation. found in Egypt – and _____________ Genomics. the movements of peoples … the precise links between races. Other accounts. make much of the power of this new discipline (unlike history based on documents. No. beginning. a new study has found his family comes from the Middle East. objective. and especially. a BBC News story recites a new scientific claim: “Man's ability to digest starchy foods like the potato may explain our success on the planet. it presents DNA as a historical text that “reveals a lot about human evolution. It is a powerful indicator of the truth status granted by our society to ‘genetic’ knowledge that the DNA evidence silenced most (though not all) of the dissenting voices that had dominated debate for over 200 years.1. too. Vol.9 per cent of human evolution which preceded the invention of writing. ponder the history of human survival. GCTTCTCGCG. given US racial politics. First.gspjournal. 24 It is worth paying attention to this kind of ephemeral material. www. these claims had been fiercely denied by Jefferson’s white descendants. The publishers of one recent book confidently asserted: Historians relying on written records can tell us nothing about the 99. Society and Policy. oral traditions. including a putative Middle Eastern heritage for Jefferson himself: While DNA tests carried out ten years ago famously showed the third US president Thomas Jefferson fathered a child with his slave. I would argue. It is the study of genetic variation. 25 As if to confirm claims that human DNA is the ‘archive’ of this new history. backed up by language and archaeology. for example the now famous role of genetics in re-writing the history of the third President of the United States of America. Unsurprisingly.

a ‘history’ with periodization often closer to that of geology than of social or political history.1 (2008) ISSN: 1746-5354 © ESRC Genomics Network. As David Chioni Moore pointed out in 1994. IdentityGenetics. No. Whether this omission suggests that meaning is beyond the remit of genetic history. But just like the poorly or incompletely interpreted document. some time later. A rapidly growing body of (largely popular) work propounds this approach.1. Genes. 27 This history ignores or downplays the evidence and artifacts of culture in favour of molecular biological evidence.com 17 . but we see this as a service to a people who have been cut off from their history and culture.” 30 Surely it behoves historians to examine this phenomenon and ask what analytic categories like ‘race’ and ‘ethnicity’ mean in their new context – and why they remain so attractive.gspjournal. Vol. One corporate spokesperson argued: “For most African-Americans. there is no paper trail … we make money. So far. having “come to the end of the paper trail” in his search for the African roots of his own family – in other words. Race. 26 Neither the original article. he ascribed the problems not to the nature of genetic evidence. Vol. When interviewed by the Wall Street Journal on the subject. Gates founded a company to do it better. Instead of rejecting the approach that had left him with multiple identities. Unfortunately. Society and Policy. Gates took another DNA test. www. African Ancestry. having run out of conventional historical sources – Gates submitted his DNA for genetic testing. Their titles are revealing: Mapping Human History: Genes. however. or that the meaning of the concrete evidence it supplies is or ought to be a truth self-evident is as yet unclear. pp. and was promised and then provided with definitive results pinpointing the geographical origins of his ancestors. One aspect that immediately strikes the historian’s eye is the association between the ‘Roots’ phenomenon of the 1970s (particularly for African Americans) and the emergence of geneticized history. _____________ Genomics. so good: geneticized history steps in to save the day when historical scholarship fails. Henry Louis Gates Jr. Memes and Human History: Darwinian Archaeology and Cultural Evolution. or even deceitful – artifacts in the biomedical. and was given different results. nor subsequent coverage supplied any interpretation of this new information about Jefferson. and Our Common Origins. and Gates’ own AfricanDNA. The Great Human Diasporas: The History of Diversity and Evolution.” 29 The names of the companies too are telling: DNA Tribes.4. but to “the reluctance of some companies to reveal the complexity of the results.12-22 introduced to Britain thousands of years ago. these apparently transparent physical artifacts can easily become meaningless. for a new kind of history. when the very science that ostensibly underpins ‘genetic history’ claims that race does not exist as a biological entity. In each of these examples. and an early enthusiast of the new history. The companies are quite explicit both abut their target consumer groups. 28 In 2000.Genomics. eminent Harvard scholar of African American literature.4.. or clusters of genes acting as a new kind of historical evidence. Gates agreed that the application of genetics to history was “problematic”. Society and Policy 2008. Inc. by incorporating more traditional historical methods. Ideas of racial and ethnic identity are at the heart of this new industry. we see the gene. and the relationship between their services and ‘history’. rather than the historical sense. No. was also an early victim of its flaws.

There is a yet more ominous and troubling element of the reliance upon DNA analysis to determine who we are in terms of lineage. and here you have the science telling you. linking them directly and authentically to Africa. and rather less exclusively concerned with ‘distinguished persons’). who sought a germ for every sickness just as passionately and unreasonably as we seek a gene for every trait? 34 Part of the reason for historical indifference surely lies in the use to which geneticized history is currently being put. 35 The attitude they observed remains a part of historical culture (although thanks to social history. for example. Handy tore their eyes away from Hawaiian culture long enough to wryly observe their own: As a pleasant and harmless form of antiquarianism. ‘truer’ – but also narrower – history. 31 As the actor Isaiah Washington noted of his own DNA ancestry test “I remember watching ‘Roots’ when I was young and it stuck with me. too. No. I am ambivalent about this newer. S. pp.4.Genomics. Anthropologists and sociologists are already exemplifying these problems in. I always wanted to know where my ancestors came from before slavery. Not only does genetic testing seem to offer an easier route to discovering a specific ancestral identity.4. 33 So why have historians generally ignored this phenomenon in their explorations of the gene. fictionalized elements. Craighill Handy and Elizabeth G. and identification. Vol.com 18 . In 1942. genetics and genomics? Are we threatened by this new ‘history from below’ (or by the encroachments of science)? Or have genes just become the new germs – are we merely reproducing the scientific evangelism of our forebears. and the tracing of genealogy are tolerantly humoured but certainly not seriously honoured by historians and scientists. but that origin is imbued with the same truth status that we as a society grant to scientifically created knowledge of the natural world in general: that of uncontestable fact. Like many professional historians.” 32 Roots sent a generation of African Americans in search of their origins.12-22 scholars across the humanities have yet to engage with the social and cultural impact of Alex Haley’s novel Roots (and the 1970s television series based on it). biologically of the same substance. … [F]amily records are considered of no importance to the larger world of scholarship and science unless related to the lives of distinguished persons. and in medical and forensic genetics. No. and fabrications that soon surrounded Roots undermined that optimism and highlighted how difficult and dubious historical genealogy could be. Society and Policy 2008. with new hope that they might find an ancestor.gspjournal. But it is only a part of the answer. we risk being blinded to persistent assumptions and prejudices if they are clothed in genetic terms. the American ethnologists E. biography. we have become considerably more enthusiastic about family records. The very technology that tells us what _____________ Genomics. but they are intimately linked. The controversies about plagiarism. Because our society currently gives genetic information such a high truth status. a sociologist who has studied this new marketplace of pasts. the study of family history. As Duster points out. noted the impact that such tests can have on their recipients’ identities: “People are making lifechanging decisions based on these tests and may not be aware of the limitations”. Troy Duster. Society and Policy. with the tools of ‘genetic history’.1 (2008) ISSN: 1746-5354 © ESRC Genomics Network. Vol.1. www. identity. studies of the new reproductive technologies.

4. linear. to subSaharan Africa (ancestry-informative markers) is the same being offered to police stations around the [USA] to “predict” or “estimate” whether the DNA left at a crime scene belongs to a white or black person. African-Americans need to be particularly sensitive to the use of phenotype as the starting point for understanding genotype. self-replicating. I meandered the far-flung tendrils of the web.. But it casts light on a broader problem for the discipline. is a return to narrative – albeit a narrative outside of time to all intents and purposes. This is by no means a justification for writing poorer. shapes it. One difficulty professional historians have had in presenting satisfying representations of the past is not unlike the problem mathematicians – and indeed medical geneticists – have in explaining risk: just as they say that risk is probabilistic. pp. we say that history and historical outcomes are contingent and relative. History is complicated. it becomes the job of historians to point out the fact that we are repeating a pattern into which we have slipped before – and with no very positive outcome. Vol. The gene has heightened the profile of what might called the historical mindset: the idea that the past is connected to the present. simpler. www. proportionately. germ theory and eugenic sociobiology were applied to explain every human disease. _____________ Genomics. Thus another crucial element for historians to observe about the ‘genetic turn’ in history is that the ascendance of genetic explanations.12-22 proportion of our ancestry can be linked. or stigmatized as ‘unfit to breed’ (or ‘lives not worth living’). in part by rooting itself so far in the past that the data have already been thoroughly winnowed. This “ethnic estimation” using DNA relies on a social definition of the phenotype. artificially linear history. Phrenological and anthropometric approaches to the modelling of race were also once the acme of modern science. is polysemic – we just have to render that complexity comprehensible and satisfying. looking for the different kinds of connections being made between the constructs ‘gene’ and ‘history’. Society and Policy. as is the ideal in many other sciences and scientific tropes – but it is encased in amber. Society and Policy 2008.. Here.gspjournal. to the great detriment of those treated with ineffective sera. Vol. . reified.1.4. particularly in relation to human traits and familial morbidity. 36 Under these circumstances. and also can be revealed by it. No. Occam’s Razor notwithstanding. We need not simply dismiss it as old wine in new bottles.Genomics. knowledge-workers tend to enjoy complexity and to see it as signifying a richer and more accurate account of reality. The new genetic history bridges that chasm. and crucially. the past is not erased by progress. is contingent.1 (2008) ISSN: 1746-5354 © ESRC Genomics Network. With the demonstrable skew of the incarcerated population over the last few decades along social categories of race. and thus in individual cases uncertain. and they have been retrospectively diagnosed as racist sciences. Professional historians can also engage with this biological past creatively and productively. While researching this piece. No. I was stunned to discover so prominent among them this idea that you could research your family history through genetic testing. But there is a break in the narrative flow of cause and effect when things get ‘complicated’.com 19 .

The social and economic origins of genetic determinism: a case history if the American Eugenics Movement. L. Allen. Beyond the Gene: Cytoplasmic Inheritance and the Struggle for Authority in Genetics.78). Stanford. CA. Rafter. No. Minna Stern. Beurton. New York. Race to the Finish: Identity and Governance in an Age of Genomics.1 (2008) ISSN: 1746-5354 © ESRC Genomics Network.mpiwgberlin. Duke University Press. Kevles and L. One volume of essays arising from this collaboration has now been published: S. Eugenic Nation: Faults and Frontiers of Better Breeding in Modern America. Cambridge MA. Kay. 2000. Code of Codes: Scientific and Social Issues in the Human Genome Project. Princeton: Princeton University Press. Reproducing the Future: Essays on Anthropology. 2000. See C. more specifically related to the gene. Heredity Produced: At the Crossroads of Biology. The Social Meaning of Modern Biology: From Social Darwinism to Sociobiology. op. 1990. Cambridge UK. E. Adams. Society and Policy.H. For an intriguing overview of the many different paths of eugenics in the US. Secrets of Life/Secrets of Death: Essays on Language. University of California Press. 1997. Experiencing the New Genetics: Family and Kinship on the Medical Frontier.Genomics. eds. D. MA. Gender and Science. Stanford University Press. Dolly Mixtures: The Remaking of Genealogy.. In the Name of Eugenics: Genetics and the Uses of Human Heredity. eds. S. Alfred A. Cambridge. 1988.N. Further essays. MA. University of Pennsylvania Press. Hans-Jörg Rheinberger. Society and Policy 2008.ac. See for example. Kinship and the New Reproductive Technologies. CA. Vol. Reardon. 6 That is. Oxford University Press. Fox Keller. Cambridge. eds. of attempts to improve the human race or breeding stock through eliminating those humans regarded as inferior. Finkler. Proctor. Müller-Wille & H. Franklin & S.4. Routledge. note 3. The Wellborn Science: Eugenics in Germany. Cambridge University Press. N. Irvine. 18 (1): 1–33. S. Genetic kinship. No. London: Yale University Press. Politics.J. Cardiff University. 3 G. 99: 77-88 (p. Who Wrote the Book of Life? A History of the Genetic Code. Harvard University Press. Philadelphia. 1995. those who work in the interdisciplinary nexus of science and technology studies. Creating Born Criminals: Biological Theories of Crime and Eugenics.1. Sapp.com 20 . Cardiff School of History and Archaeology. www. New York. Durham. Urbana: 2 1 _____________ Genomics.-J. which strove to achieve the same ends – a better. Fox Keller. MIT Press. the speakers and audience who attended the Cardiff University Centre for Applied Ethics 2007 workshop “What is special about the gene?”. are available online as preprint 343 at http://www.-J. 2001. Genetica 1997. Negative eugenics is usually contrasted to positive eugenics. 2007. see A. UK bivinsre@cardiff. cit. France.gspjournal. 2007. The Concept of the Gene in Development and Evolution: Historical and Epistemological Perspectives. 5 For example. K. I should note here also the highly pertinent contributions of geographer Catherine Nash. VA.B. 1985. D. 1987. healthier. Vol. E. Hood. 2000. 2005. as well as a geographer’s perspective on the new ‘genetic genealogy’ I discuss in section 2. 1992. J. ed. pp.uk In particular.4. 7 Among many examples of this historical approach. Franklin. Falk & H. Berkeley. Refiguring Life: Metaphors of Twentieth-century Biology. J. Relative Values: Reconfiguring Kinship Study.mpg. E. Duke University Press. and M. M. H. and Mary Wren Bivins for their valuable comments on this piece. and Christina Brandt have in recent years led a series of collaborative workshops aimed at defining 'A Cultural History of Heredity'. Cultural Studies 2004.html. McKinnon. see Allen. Staffan Müller-Wille. Harvard University Press. New York & London: Routledge. VA. 4 Exemplars include L. The Wellek Library Lecture Series at the University of California. or as likely to produce inferior progeny.de/en/research/preprints. Kevles. Rheinberger. see P. 1900-1940 and its lessons for today. Durham. and even happier human race – via encouraging ‘superior’ individuals to pair and produce many children. 1500-1870.J. R. 1986. and Russia.12-22 Acknowledgements I would like to thank the anonymous referees. 1992. Strathern. Kaye. 1992. Here I must also note a approach which has come to my attention too late for inclusion here. for an excellent review of work specifically addressing ‘genetic kinship’. 2005. Knopf. Oxford University Press. Oxford. eds. New York. J. New York: Columbia University Press. Brazil. Racial hygiene: Medicine under the Nazis. Rheinberger. Nash. and Culture. R.

or people and of ideas. 1997. 1975. cit. 1991. and the Study of a Disease. New York: W. Drawing Blood Technology and Disease Identity in Twentieth-Century America. 1996. N. The Double Helix: A Personal Account of the Discovery of the Structure of DNA (Norton Critical Editions). Race and Gender: The Role of Analogy in Science. and Deadly Persistence of the Product That Defined America. see S. Albany: State University of New York Press. The Politics of Heredity: Essays on Eugenics. For an alternative perspective. Kluger. People who are heterozygous for at the sickle cell locus have no symptoms of the disease. Bulletin of the History of Medicine 1991. 18 K. 2007.4. Sickle cell anaemia can occur in children only where both parents carry the necessary mutant gene. genetics and health at the dawn of the genome era. see C. A Feeling for the Organism: The Life and Work of Barbara McClintock. ‘Sickle-cell anaemia -. Norton. Fox Keller. New York. Wailoo. esp. Allen. ‘ethnicity’. op. Nature Genetics 2004. Johns Hopkins University Press: 134-161. Gender and Nation in Latin America. who in chapter 2 offers valuable examples form the scientific literature. and the Nature-Nurture Debate. 1997. The Johns Hopkins University Press. London. Tapper. Emphasis added. M. Norton.com/ng/journal/v36/n11s/full/ng1436. D.J. her second chapter ‘Post World War II Expert Discourse on Race’. Ithaca: Cornell University Press. 12 F. 65: 185-208. Weindling. 319-37. W. N. Brandt. Blood. The Public Health & The Unabashed Triumph of Phillip Morris. See also K. Comparative Studies in Society and History 1995. www. araway. 10: 26-38. 17 The symptoms of sickle cell anaemia. Paul. 20 See Wailoo. Accessed 08/09/2007 at http://www. History. 77: 261-277. but can pass the trait to their children. The Role of Foundations in International Population Studies. Ashes to Ashes: America's Hundred-Year Cigarette War. University of North Carolina Press. E. The Hour of Eugenics: Race. 11 Again. K. K. M. Routledge. Femaleman. MD. 9 See for example. 21 See for examples. each form of which confers some selective advantage). “None. Social History of Medicine. E.1 (2008) ISSN: 1746-5354 © ESRC Genomics Network. 10 See Reardon. E. Rosalind Franklin and DNA. Basic Books. 8 For an overview and critique of biological determinism. see D. op. 1998. Wailoo. 1983. 16 Sickle cell anaemia is now recognized as the homozygous form of a balanced genetic polymorphism (pratically speaking. a trait that exists in multiple forms in a population. New York. Dying in the City of the Blues: Sickle Cell Anemia and the Politics of Race and Health. An “anthropathology” of the “American Negro”: anthropology. 2000. This explanation. W. 17 (1): 141-145. Norton & Company with J. Fox Keller. 37: 76-93.W. MA. 1992. op. Baltimore. Watson. see Reardon. Chapel Hill. note 2. and G. Harvard University Press.cit. E. 1904-1924. New York. and compare. cit.4. and Politics. Freeman. 10: 263-89.Fox Keller. 15 For a history of sickle-cell’s biomedical discovery and elucidation. as well as the anaemia itself and the painful crises. 1996. Pure and Eloquent: a story of discovery. 2001. Cambridge.12-22 University of Illinois Press. For a brief case study of the role of gendered language in shaping experiments in early bacterial genetics (illustrating _____________ Genomics. 1980. Routledge.Fox Keller. Society and Policy 2008. Leys Stepan. 19 The Minster of Health answered rather evasively. thrombosis and a range of long-term sequelae including organ damage. Vol. New York. New York. Biomedicine. Secrets of Life. Knopf. R. Sayre. pp. A “disease sui generis”: the origins of sickle cell anemia and the emergence of modern clinical research. pp. 1997. copyright Meets_OncoMouse trademark: Feminism and Technoscience. Stepan. Modest_Witness@Second_Millenium. Wintrobe. leg ulcers.com 21 . 14 For a history. Isis 1986. Interrogating Bodies: Medico-Racial Knowledge. include capillary engorgement. Wailoo. Politics. Drawing Blood. Conley. Fall. Baltimore. Minerva 2002. infections. and Science. Gender. The Cigarette Century: The Rise. note 15. Secrets of Death: Essays on Language. Gender and Science: Origin. No. 1997.” See The National Archives (UK) MH159/121. 1981 (originally published 1968). Journal of the History of Biology 1984. Wailoo. San Francisco. Osiris 1995 (2nd Series). note 2. 36 Published online: 26 October 2004. Society and Policy. Technology and Disease Identity in Twentieth Century America. Tapper. see A. The Roots of Biological Determinism. The Century of the Gene. fit well with US (and to a lesser degree UK) convictions about the dangers of miscegenation and racial mixing. Modernising Eugenics.gspjournal.html 13 Ibid. What we do and don't know about ‘race’. of course. Gould.nature. genetics and the new racial science. The Mismeasure of Man. 1940-1952. Vol. Alfred A.1.the first molecular disease’ in M. 167-179. No. McGraw-Hill.B.S Collins. P. A.D.Genomics.

Memory and Civic Culture. London. note 18. note 2.org/research/duster/deeproots _____________ Genomics.1.1 (2008) ISSN: 1746-5354 © ESRC Genomics Network.2007). Longview Institute.co.4. Women. 325 (7378). Winstein. Chioni Moore. S. The Journal of Negro Education 1977. Rare Match. eds.cit. See also Nash. New York Times (Business. L. Brodwin.12-22 some of the strengths and the weaknesses of the linguistic turn in the history of science). Journal for the History of Biology 2000.S. see N. Genes. Sally Hemings and Thomas Jefferson: History. Handy. 33 Nixon. 22: 381-388 (p. 33: 113-139. November 25 2007). Arnez. Cambridge. New York. www. Duster. Onuf. April 28. 2006. Harvard's Gates Refines Genetic-Ancestry Searches for Blacks. Accessed 09/12/2008 at www. No. Society and Policy. 1998. Wall Street Journal (November 15. Bivins. 1995. Mapping Human History: Genes. Society and Policy 2008.com 22 . New York. note 18. Genes. chronology. Ergorova & T.L. See also C. William and Mary Quarterly 1942. See N. 36 T. and dissenting views. Elliott and P.Genomics. Routes. Houghton Mifflin. Olson. 25 For a fuller account of this case.L. which responds to the establishment of the first commercial genetic ancestry testing company. op. Routledge. cit. Race. London: Thames & Hudson. 27 L. Parfitt. op. All of human history can be written with four letters. DNA Tests Find Branches But No Roots. The Guardian. Shennan. Penguin Press Science. D5.pbs. London. 29 K.gspjournal. Deep Roots and Tangled Branches. Harvard University Press. See its homepage at http://www.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/jefferson/ 26 Anonymous.L Cavalli-Sforza. Genealogy and Genetics. This example was also disseminated to far wider audiences through the medium of a Public Broadcasting Service television series.G. op. 2005. MA. 30 As quoted in Nixon. Metro (30/03/2007). No. DNA reveals president’s slave child. see J.J. 23 http://news. Cavalli-Sforza.bbc. Tomes. Memes and Human History: Darwinian Archaeology and Cultural Evolution. British Medical Journal 2002.S. 2001. including documentary and biological evidence. and the Microbe in American Life. From His Story to Our Story: A Review of “Roots”. cit. 1999. op. 35 E.4. Addison-Wesley. Emphasis added. The Gospel of Germs: Men. and Our Common Origins. Lewis & P.uk 10/09/07 24 Cover text. pp. 1469–1471. 31 D. 2002. Peoples and Languages.E. 46 (3): 367-372. 64: 4-21. note 18. Vol. 34 For examples of the public’s enthusiastic embrace of the germ. Genetics. cit. 2002. Craighill Handy and E. Vol. see R. 28 R. Sex Cells: Gender and the Language of Bacterial Genetics. Transition 1994. 22 Alok Jha. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia. 32 Nixon. and Y. Nixon. for a contemporary perspective on the phenomenon. Great Human Diasporas: The History of Diversity and Evolution.longviewinstitute.386). Identity and genetic ancestry tracing. S. Mass Media and Identity: A Case Study of the Genetic Research on the Lemba and Bene Israel.

I have been seeking a way of understanding the relations between human beings and their environments that allows us to overcome the separation. In its 1996 ‘Statement on Race’. through an analysis of the ways in which anthropologists have sought to refute the idea that humanity is divided into distinct races.Genomics. Only through such an approach. can we wrest biology away from the combination of geneticism and essentialism that continues to perpetuate the logic of raciology even in the course of its vehement denial. the Consensual phase (culture as diverse traditions inscribed upon a common biological substrate) and the Interactionist phase (behaviour as the product of an interaction between culturally and genetically transmitted information in a given environment). the American Association of Physical Anthropologists ruled out any connection between the biological and cultural characteristics of human beings. Much of the difficulty stems from the inherent ‘slipperiness’ of our concepts.gspjournal. pp. Introduction For some years now. on the other. for there is no getting around the fact that the discipline owes its origins. and along with many anthropological colleagues. The paper seeks an alternative. the construction of hierarchy and essentialist typology.1. it is argued. 4 There was a period. 3 This also means trying to overcome the division in the way we tend to see ourselves. No. For today’s _____________ Genomics. only serve to perpetuate raciological thinking. or to replace ‘race’ with ‘culture’. to the virulent racism of the late nineteenth century. and none are more slippery than the concepts of biology and culture. To introduce the problem.4. Efforts to redefine all extant humans as belonging to a single sub-species. from around 1870 to 1920. and of its opposition to ‘culture’. These shifts in meaning correspond to phases in the history of anthropology. No. and as biological organisms. namely that of ‘race’.23-37 When biology goes underground: genes and the spectre of race 1 TIM INGOLD 2 Abstract This paper examines the changing meanings of the concept of ‘biology’. Vol.4. identified here as the Enlightenment phase (culture as a process of civilisation drawing on universal biopsychological capacities). and like to trace their origins to the work of great scholars of the past. relational approach that focuses on the dynamics of developmental systems. Vol. Society and Policy 2008. Indeed this is still how the subject is often popularly portrayed. Society and Policy. This kind of thinking had its origins in the moral evaluation of physical difference.1 (2008) ISSN: 1746-5354 © ESRC Genomics Network. The problems we face are formidable. I want to begin by unpacking what has surely been one of the most sensitive notions in the whole history of anthropology. www. Anthropologists are less fortunate.com 23 . very largely. Yet the statement is internally inconsistent in the meanings it attributes to both biology and culture. as social beings or persons on the one hand. Most academic disciplines are proud of their history. when anthropology quite explicitly identified itself as the study of the different races of mankind. members of a particular species. between the world of nature and the world of human society. so deeply entrenched in western thought and science.

by descent. pp. Thus the reasons that anthropologists latterly adduced for the existence of separate cultures – namely. spreading north from Africa.1 (2008) ISSN: 1746-5354 © ESRC Genomics Network. One reason for this is obvious: we live in a world in which racism is still rampant. 8 _____________ Genomics. once and for all. The story that is told by modern science. Homo sapiens sapiens (or ‘anatomically modern humans’. 7 But the logic of this division remains precisely the same.4.4. To say that all humans are of one race is not to dismiss the concept of race itself. have to be a critique of the concept of culture as well. 6 What the new story has in common with the old is the belief in a shared essence.Genomics. of how superior creatures of our own race.com 24 . that makes us what we are. They would like to put it behind them. But there is another reason which. Yet somehow the spectre of race continues to haunt them. how it shapes attitudes towards the self and others.23-37 anthropologists. that is by simply replacing the word ‘race’ with the word ‘culture’. this image is a source of continuing embarrassment.gspjournal. bear upon the experience of social life. for anthropologists. Society and Policy 2008. But does this amount to an acknowledgement that race does not exist? Far from it. The problem for contemporary anthropology is that any critique of the concept of race that would really carry conviction would. superimposed upon a human nature that is common to all. is rather less comfortable. No. but rather to confirm it. Vol. all other sub-species (such as the ill-fated Neanderthals) having long since been reduced to extinction. why the idea still exercises such a hold on the imagination. Vol. so that as students of society we have to confront the questions of what people mean by race. that the members of a culture share a common essence or heritage that is passed on by descent – would. It is that the arguments they have used to refute the idea that humanity is divided into distinct races still carry with them the germs of the very kind of thinking they claim to demolish. anthropological orthodoxy swung to the view that it is divided into distinct cultures. Homo sapiens sapiens. The first is by declaring that all humankind comprises just one race or sub-species. coupled with the notion that this essence is passed on genealogically – that is. It is to claim not just that race exists. lead straight back to the existence of race. We cannot have it both ways. if applied in the realm of biological variation. 5 By and large. but that in the prehistoric past – though no longer today – there were indeed distinct races of mankind. or common human nature. in turn. Society and Policy.1. overran the continent of Europe at the expense of its indigenous Neanderthal population. For the reasons why races don’t exist are also the reasons why cultures don’t exist. as they are known by specialists). at one and the same time. and how these. Instead of saying that humanity is divided into distinct races. both rejecting the idea of race while holding on to the idea that humanity is segmented into discrete cultures. www. No. Nor is this combination of essentialism and genealogical thinking in any way shaken by the second way in which modern anthropology has tackled the problem of race. however. only the mechanism of genealogical transmission has been changed – from genetic inheritance to social learning. is almost a precise mirror image of the nineteenth century story of the how white Europeans were destined to colonise and subjugate the ‘primitive races’ of black Africa. anthropologists have tried to deal with the problem of race in two ways.

23-37 From race to raciology But I have run ahead of myself. www. these connotations had their origins in three lines of thought: i) It was supposed that people’s physical appearance or type was an index of their temperament or moral disposition. 9 One might add that the concept of culture has had historical consequences that are scarcely less devastating. as we have seen in recent movements of ‘ethnic cleansing’. at least until quite recently. during the heyday of European colonial expansion. Yet for anyone who still believes that concepts are immaterial. race is still popularly used as a synonym for species. The etymological source of the word ‘race’ has been traced – albeit somewhat inconclusively – to the Latin generare (to beget) and generatio (generation). in much the same sense that we might now talk about nations. ‘has presided over homicide and genocide’. Negroid. The root meaning is one of common descent. are relatively harmless. divorced from the struggles of the real world. No. However in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. for each race there was supposed to correspond an essential form of the human being – Caucasoid. the notion of race gathered additional connotations that converted it from a merely descriptive term into one that carried an exceedingly potent moral and political charge. And in the same sense. as anthropologist Eric Wolf puts it. Society and Policy. or shared genealogical origin. or that arguments about concepts are mere word-play for academics. These three tendencies – the moral evaluation of physical difference. ii) It was assumed that different types could be arranged in a single hierarchy from inferior to superior. honest or crafty. Mongoloid. Vol.1. like all concepts that touch a raw nerve in human history. No. It is in this sense that.Genomics. ‘The race concept’. Roughly speaking. one could often find authors – for example of popular travel books – talking about the ‘races of men’ inhabiting this territory or that country. though perhaps rather loose. pp. cultures. and essentialist typology – were together responsible for the climate of _____________ Genomics. on almost exactly the same terms.gspjournal. the invidious role that notions of race have played in the history of humanity must surely prove otherwise. It is indeed worth reflecting on the reasons why those who are adamant in their rejection of the race concept are nevertheless happy to embrace the concept of culture.1 (2008) ISSN: 1746-5354 © ESRC Genomics Network. Society and Policy 2008. active or passive – from the way they looked. as in ‘the human race’. and so on – to which every living individual represented a more or less close approximation. Of course. Usages of this kind. peoples or ethnic groups.com 25 . to discover how the idea of race came to be so deeply embedded in the political and intellectual milieu within which anthropology first took shape as a distinct discipline. Vol. iii) Every race was thought to represent a type in the strict sense: that is to say. intelligent or stupid.4. race has meant many things to many people. such that higher races would inevitably win out in what came to be seen as a ‘struggle for existence’. We need to take a step back.4. so that one could read off what people were like – good or bad. the construction of hierarchy.

and indeed the whole institutional apparatus of the ‘test’ with its attendant technologies and authority structures. Again. www. And even if such evidence could be adduced.1 (2008) ISSN: 1746-5354 © ESRC Genomics Network. this is simply because the ways in which the problems are set. claims to have shown that the underlying assumptions of racist thinking. (Later on. or of what Wolf calls ‘raciology’. For any particular gene or characteristic. this map resembles the kind of chart we see every day on the television weather forecast. Society and Policy. showing tomorrow’s expected temperatures. of the environmental circumstances in which he or she was brought up. Are some populations more intelligent than others? The majority of contemporary anthropologists would. Vol. If children from other cultures do badly in intelligence tests devised by western psychologists and educationalists. I shall explain why. it would rest on so many undemonstrable assumptions – namely _____________ Genomics. No. 11 Many anthropologists would probably want to go even further. But let us suppose – just for the sake of argument – that there is such a thing as intelligence. Likewise. genetic distribution maps use contours to depict graded variations in the percentage of the population that carries a particular character. on the other. and that you can use standard testing procedures to measure it. Modern scholarship.Genomics.gspjournal. then. take the view that there is no way of measuring intelligence that is not culture-bound. pp. But for every character you might select.4. 12 there is no evidence whatever to support them. no basis for a division of humankind into defined sub-groups on the basis of hereditary characteristics. Although suggestions to this effect have been made from time to time. Consider for example the hotly disputed criterion of intelligence. For this to be so there would have to be significant differences in average intelligence between populations. Moreover there is no evidence to suggest that extant human populations can be ranked in terms of any criterion of superiority or inferiority. though for my part I think the whole nature/nurture debate is misconceived.23-37 racism within which the discipline of anthropology emerged and which is now a source of such shame. If you were to superimpose maps for a range of different characters. even if it really were the case that a person’s level of intelligence is genetically determined. racial essentialism – the belief that human beings come in a number of fixed ‘racial types’ – was shown to be incompatible with Darwinian evolutionary theory. the map looks quite different. are alien to their experience. No. Modern evolutionary biologists are concerned not with the enumeration of distinct types but with the mapping of genetic distributions. they are not absolute boundaries between hot and cold. then you would find no neat correspondence but an apparently chaotic tangle of intersecting gradients. of course. First of all. There is. This point seems incontrovertible.com 26 . and that it corresponds to nothing real that could be objectively measured. 10 have no scientific credibility. Vol. to claim that the very notion of intelligence is an invention of western discourse. There still remains the question of the extent to which a person’s intelligence is a function of genetic inheritance on the one hand. I think.) However. Society and Policy 2008. that would still not mean that intelligence varied by race. or.1. most anthropologists would be inclined to place more emphasis on nurture than nature. I myself am of this opinion.4. The lines on the chart are contours indicating temperature gradients.

culture and the ‘statement on race’ A much more tricky problem. Society and Policy 2008. Vol. and culture.23-37 that intelligence exists. others _____________ Genomics.4. is summed up in the formal ‘statement on race’ recently adopted by the American Association of Physical Anthropologists. as I shall show. and social (or cultural) anthropology on the other. 14 Evidently the intent of the statement is to draw a line under the whole issue: to make it clear.gspjournal. absolutely no connection between the biological and cultural characteristics of human beings.Genomics. And the source of the incoherence lies in fundamental ambiguities surrounding the meanings of both ‘biology’ and ‘culture’. temperament and behaviour that are generally bracketed under the rubric of ‘culture’. www. No. Biology. the absolute separation of biological variation and cultural difference has been central to the anthropological refutation of raciology. However. The present consensus. economy.1 (2008) ISSN: 1746-5354 © ESRC Genomics Network. 13 So far as most anthropologists were concerned. The crucial passage is reproduced in full below: There is no necessary concordance between biological characteristics and culturally defined groups. however. religious. A glance through the recent (and not so recent) literature reveals a host of different senses of biology and the biological. that was that. the statement is largely incoherent.1. declared unequivocally that ‘any attempt to explain cultural form on a purely biological basis is doomed to failure’. Society and Policy. that whatever biological differences may exist between people. There is no national. On every continent. No. Vol. But there is no known causal linkage between these physical and behavioural traits. Right from the early decades of the twentieth century. Franz Boas. There is. and that it has a significant innate component – as to be virtually meaningless. on both sides of this academic divide. Ever since. once and for all. biological and sociocultural anthropologists have proceeded quite independently of one another – addressing apparently different problems. there are diverse populations that differ in language. they are of absolutely no consequence so far as their acquisition of culture is concerned.4. pp. according to this statement. This separation or detachment of the cultural from the biological dimensions of human being effectively split anthropology itself into the two quite distinct divisions of physical (or biological) anthropology on the one hand. that it can be measured by standard tests.com 27 . collecting different kinds of data and speaking different conceptual languages. human beings who speak the same language and share the same culture frequently select each other as mates. some of them mutually compatible. turns on the issue of the relation – or rather the lack of it – between the biological or physical characteristics of human beings and those aspects of morality. and therefore it is not justifiable to attribute cultural characteristics to the influence of genetic inheritance. linguistic or cultural group or economic class that constitutes a race. Unfortunately however. In 1930 the acknowledged founder of American cultural anthropology. with the result that there is often some degree of correspondence between the distribution of physical traits on the one hand and that of linguistic and cultural traits on the other.

in social and cultural anthropology. which asserts that ‘there is no necessary concordance between biological characteristics and culturally defined groups’. www. so it is assumed to be a ‘cultural’ trait. Vol. then ‘biological characteristics’ must belong to individuals. But the statement then carries on to make a distinction between ‘physical traits on the one hand and … cultural traits on the other’. of course. it might be argued that the facial gesture we call the smile is found among all humans everywhere: it is therefore a ‘biological’ or ‘physical’ trait.1. now distinguished from biology in terms of a logic of sameness and difference.com 28 . the individual was left as a residually biopsychological entity. so to speak. which I summarise below. skating or cycling is cultural. 16 And this thinking seems to be confirmed in the first sentence of the passage I cited from the ‘statement on race’. It has long been conventional. namely society. For example.4. Society and Policy. as opposed to learning-transmitted. If groups are defined by their possession of shared culture. walking is said to be biological. earlier) notion of culture as a property of individuals. This is to move to another (and in the history of American anthropology. to suppose that the members of a society or community are united by their possession of a common culture – that is. it appears to set out from the third of these senses of the biological. then. ‘creamed off’ to this higher level. However as soon as _____________ Genomics. were thought to define the limits of society. Or again. No. however. This corresponds to the second of the five senses of the biological listed above. with an existence and a form of consciousness of its own. A search for what is universal to the human species rather than variable between populations. and something inherently individualising in our thinking about minds and organisms. If we return to the ‘statement on race’. a simple corollary of the assumption that. Biology can mean: i) ii) iii) iv) v) A focus on the basic capacities and dispositions that humans have in common with other animals (especially non-human primates). The limits of sharing. as a property of a higher-level entity. among humans. or some cultural analogue of the same. influences on behaviour. No. while anthropologists and sociologists study groups. whereas swimming. An emphasis on the behaviour of individuals rather than higher-order social groupings. 15 They can be reduced. Vol. is by no means universal. on the other hand. A concern with the discovery of genetic. to five. As everything cultural was. The identification of the biological with what is universal is. by a shared corpus of rules and meanings. pp.23-37 directly contradictory. From this logic stemmed the idea that biologists and psychologists study individuals. A Darwinian explanatory paradigm of adaptation under natural selection. Thus culture came to be seen as an essentially collective phenomenon.4. 17 Biology is simply taken to mean what all human beings have in common – a sort of ‘lowest common denominator’ for the species – as distinct from those characteristics in which they differ. all difference is due to culture.1 (2008) ISSN: 1746-5354 © ESRC Genomics Network.Genomics. Society and Policy 2008. Let me pause to explain this sense a little further. The manual gesture of hand-shaking. There seems to be something inherently ‘groupy’ in our thinking about society and culture.gspjournal. over and above the level in which human beings exist as individual organisms.

biology is supposed to be the source of all variability and difference. is what we see: the organism as it actually appears to an observer.Genomics. Once. neoDarwinian) perspective. No.4. the genes. it comes to be identified with the genotype. The formation of the phenotype. The statement then shifts its terms yet again. not as phenotypic behaviour. 19 Thus the _____________ Genomics. but as an underlying programme for behaviour. The source of the genotype/phenotype dichotomy lies in the Darwinian theory of variation under natural selection. hidden away in the nucleus of every cell of the body. Now it is not just ‘biology’ that has gone underground. Society and Policy 2008.1. 18 The genotype is an underlying programme for constructing an organism of a certain kind. There are two dimensions to the phenotype: the morphological (the outward form of the organism. the way is opened for an alternative view of culture. but culture also. is simply the human phenotype in its behavioural aspect. Rather than referring to phenotypic traits that all humans have in common. however. situated within a particular environment. and is thought to be encoded in the materials of heredity. And it is the genotype that is supposed to evolve through changes in the frequency of its information-bearing elements. to ‘go underground’.4. Society and Policy. Vol. That is why we end up with the curiously contradictory positions that whereas in the human world. The logic of the theory rests on the assumption that elements of the genotype alone can be passed from one generation to the next. A distinction is introduced between culture and behaviour. analogous to the genetic programme but transmitted by an alternative mechanism of inheritance – namely. ‘Culture’. which are not supposed to have any culture. This identification of culture with the behavioural phenotype paves the way for biology. what it looks like) and the behavioural (the activity of the organism. the inner programme at the heart of each human organism. To emphasise the analogy with genes. by contrast.1 (2008) ISSN: 1746-5354 © ESRC Genomics Network. The phenotype. pp. in the non-human world. Thus the notion that culture is phenotypic whereas biology is genotypic takes us to the fourth of the senses of ‘biological’ listed above: the sense that equates biology with a Darwinian (or more strictly. beginning with its conception and ending with its death. No. as it were. or more specifically with genetic inheritance. plays no part in the evolutionary process. the latter to their outwardly observable effects.com 29 . It speaks of the difference between ‘physical traits’ and ‘behavioural traits’. in the sense that currently concerns us. So ‘culture’ is now to be read as ‘behaviour’. This shift has to be understood in terms of a distinction that is central to the whole explanatory framework of modern biology: between genotype and phenotype. by contrast. what it is observed to do). www. the genes. that assumption ceases to apply. Hence we arrive at the fifth and final sense of the ‘biological’ in our list.gspjournal. it is confined within the life-cycle of each individual organism. many writers have taken to calling the elements of transmitted culture by the term ‘memes’ – a term coined by biologist and popular science writer Richard Dawkins. augmented in the so-called ‘modern synthesis’ of twentieth century biology through an alliance with population genetics. biology comes to be identified with the genes. biology is taken to be what makes everyone the same. the former referring to underlying rules and instructions (analogous to the genetic programme). social learning.23-37 we turn to non-human species. referring to genetic as opposed to learning-transmitted influences on behaviour. Vol.

albeit rather roughly. Looking at the whole passage from the ‘statement on race’. Primitive people. No. Tylor changed his mind. as set out in his monumental Primitive Culture of 1871. but also that it continually shifts the goal-posts as regards the definition of culture. analogous to the genes they carry in their bodies. Thus there was no way in which the savage could be educated into civilisation.com 30 . In what follows. Vol. Darwin had argued that culture could only be as advanced as the brains that produce it. and another set of learning-transmitted programme elements (memes). had all the necessary capacities to enable them to be civilised. in the same measure that the latter were superior to the brains of apes. since his brain simply wasn’t big enough to accommodate it. the best way to promote the advance of human civilisation was to do everything possible to hasten their demise.1. a position with which Darwin himself _____________ Genomics. It is important to stress that although Tylor was indubitably ethnocentric. The brains of ‘civilised nations’.4. he thought. and then go on to conclude by suggesting how a focus on human development might at last allow us to move beyond the distinction between biological and cultural dimensions of human existence. Vol. it should be said. it draws directly on this notion of culture as intergenerationally transmitted information. down the line from its ancestors. one set of genetically transmitted programme elements (genes).4. A decade later. First culture is identified as a property of groups (as opposed to individuals).Genomics. since primitive peoples were destined to lose out in the struggle for existence. From this point of view the biological part of man. the Consensual phase and the Interactionist phase. Society and Policy. otherwise known as ‘human nature’. with three ways of thinking about the distinction – and the relation – between biology and culture.23-37 human being receives. were superior to those of ‘barbarous tribes’. And when the ‘statement on race’ ends by opposing ‘cultural characteristics’ to ‘genetic inheritance’. however. was founded on the doctrine of the ‘psychic unity of mankind’. it should now be clear not only that it appeals to several notions of the biological or physical.1 (2008) ISSN: 1746-5354 © ESRC Genomics Network. in judging every culture by the standards of western civilisation and in placing his own society unequivocally at the top of the scale. constitutes a universal baseline for cultural development that has taken humanity from its primitive hunter-gatherer past to modern science and civilisation. Some advocates of so-called ‘social Darwinism’ went so far as to argue that. according to which all humans are alike in their basic potentials but differ in the degree to which these potentials are realised. It is possible to correlate these shifts. www. This was Edward Tylor’s view. From civilisation to consensus The Enlightenment phase. he thought. that have characterised successive phases in the history of anthropology. and finally it is identified with particles of heritable information that individuals are supposed to carry in their heads. dating from the middle of the eighteenth century. but these capacities remained unfulfilled. No. I shall first outline each of these phases. then it becomes a property of individuals (referring to attributes in which they differ rather than those they have in common). following the publication of Darwin’s The Descent of Man. pp.gspjournal. I call these the Enlightenment phase. he was not – or at least not yet – racist in his views. Society and Policy 2008. This is not.

21 Kroeber insisted that cultural phenomena were ‘superorganic’ in the sense that they existed on a distinct and higher plane of reality with emergent properties of its own. But the reaction. which purported to show that scientific genius was innate. 22 That.com 31 . is the foundation for what I call (following Clifford Geertz) the consensual view of the distinction between human biology and culture. 23 In this view. they had no purchase on the superorganic world. It is simply a matter of the inscription of different cultural messages upon the same basic substrate. those traits that differ from one group to another belong to culture. or of culture having reached different degrees of development. Human nature no more constrains cultural form than paper constrains what you write on it. the Japanese and the Australian Aborigines belong to nature. It is not a matter of having more or less culture.4. in early twentieth century American anthropology. was not only against racism.4. the essence of human nature was to be found not by stripping away the accumulated achievements of culture to reveal the natural man beneath. pp. but rather by factoring out behavioural traits that are apparently common to all human groups. particularly in the United States. most biologists and anthropologists now take the view that behaviour cannot be described as one thing or the other. Alfred L. is ‘a tablet that is written upon’: nature provides the tablet.gspjournal. Society and Policy. that are shared by the Scots. In 1874. for example. Kroeber and his contemporaries argued that cultures could not be ranked higher or lower on any single scale. No. they say.Genomics. culture the message that is written. once enormously influential. 24 Others took up the argument on the side of nurture. No. then. And these differences were thought to be imprinted upon a common substrate of biological universals. Kroeber wrote. Today Kroeber’s work. In 1917 one of the leading anthropologists of the day. Note that this is not equivalent to saying that the Australian Aborigine is somehow closer to nature than the Scotsman. Interaction and development Kroeber was writing during the heyday of the so-called nature-nurture controversy – a controversy that was originally formulated in these terms by Darwin’s cousin. it was also against the doctrine of evolutionary progress – the idea that the peoples of the world could be ranked on a single scale of absolute advance. Society and Policy 2008. which sought to improve the human race through controlled breeding.1 (2008) ISSN: 1746-5354 © ESRC Genomics Network.23-37 concurred. 20 It was against this background that anthropologists of the early twentieth century. Francis Galton. Yet it continued to resurface. arguing that the conditions of upbringing were everything.1. notably in the eugenics movement. and that heredity could account for nothing at all. they were simply different. Rather. that established what was to be the anthropological orthodoxy for years to come. ‘Man’. Racial categories could only apply to human beings as biological organisms. reasserted the independence of culture and race. Kroeber. published a paper under the title ‘The Superorganic’. Against this. is all but forgotten – not because his views are no longer accepted but because what needed to be spelled out explicitly then is nowadays part of what most anthropologists simply take for granted. as due to either nature or nurture. www. Those traits. Vol. every instance of behaviour has to be seen as the _____________ Genomics. Vol. Galton had published an influential book entitled Engish men of science: their nature and nurture. Though the debate has carried on furiously for decades. and could not be accounted for in terms of the quality of upbringing.

birds build nests. a body of information that is transmitted across the generations by non-genetic means. genetically prescribed potentials are ‘brought out’. 27 Thus beavers learn to build dams and humans learn to build shelters. the latter by learning. the work of the beaver. What the beaver inherits. which nevertheless depends for its realisation on specific environmental conditions. Kroeber asked rhetorically. Human beings.23-37 product of a continuing interaction between the components of heredity (nowadays known as ‘genes’) and the environmental conditions of development. For Geertz recognises that the beaver’s behaviour is not determined by nature rather than nurture.1. No. with those of human builders. they inherit a capacity to acquire such programmes. ‘as to affirm that one generation or a hundred or ten thousand of example and instruction would in the least convert the beaver from what he is into a carpenter or a bricklayer – or.com 32 . by appropriate environmental stimuli. In the case of the beaver.1 (2008) ISSN: 1746-5354 © ESRC Genomics Network. Consider. or for that matter the behaviour of any other creature. This means that we cannot simply factor out human behaviour. locate food.gspjournal. But men build dams and shelters. Society and Policy 2008.4.4. by contrast. in constructing dams. for human beings there is not just one _____________ Genomics. bees locate food. pp. moral systems and aesthetic judgements: conceptual structures moulding formless talents. Society and Policy. allowing for his physical deficiency in the lack of hands. In short. Vol. is not dam-building behaviour but a programme of instructions for the development of dambuilding.Genomics. But the form of learning in each case is significantly different. Kroeber had compared the feats of the beaver. In his paper on ‘The Superorganic’. It has to be completed through the acquisition of additional instructions. into its innate and acquired components. with its genes. www. organise their social groups or find sexual partners under the guidance of instructions encoded in flow charts and blueprints. No. To put it another way. learning consists in the way in which given. ‘Who would be so rash’. I take Geertz’s paper as representative of the third phase in the history of anthropological thinking about the biology/culture interface: what I call the interactionist phase. hunting lore. Accordingly. and mice mate on the basis of forms of learning that rest predominantly on the instructions encoded in their genes and evoked by appropriate patterns of external stimuli: physical keys inserted into organic locks. And these instructions are encoded in what is commonly called culture. Let me quote the relevant passage: Beavers build dams. for example. the programme for the development of the human organism in its environment is genetically underdetermined. the beaver and the human achieve their results by fundamentally different means: the former by instinct. Vol. baboons organise social groups. 26 Clifford Geertz returned to the beaver/human comparison. But there was a significant difference. His conclusion was that although the beaver’s dam may be as impressive as many a human construction. but is rather the product of an interaction between the two. Rather. within the lifetime of the individual. do not inherit – in the genes – a programme for the development of house building. in a paper published in 1964 entitled ‘The impact of the concept of culture on the concept of man’. into a planning engineer?’ 25 Some fifty years later.

For in reality.gspjournal. So what do we begin with? What is already in place at the moment of inauguration of a new human life-cycle? The answer is not just a set of genes but a whole system of relations comprised by the presence of the fertilised egg with its complement of DNA. in a continuous process of social life. in a womb. I can only conclude that such a view is fundamentally mistaken. nor are people and their behaviour the products of such interaction.4. Instead of dividing overt behaviours into those that are innate (such as the smile) and those that are acquired (such as the handshake). Vol. In short. in the body of a mother-to-be. And through such interaction.1 (2008) ISSN: 1746-5354 © ESRC Genomics Network. The behaviour itself is understood as the consequence of an ongoing interaction between the two. grows in a body that is actively doing things. is not ready-made but undergoes continual formation in the course of our lives.23-37 channel of inheritance but two. cultural channel. are not born biologically or psychologically identical. But in fact they have not. No. both for themselves and for others. people actively intervene in shaping the conditions of future development. in this view. No. The dichotomy is still there. but has simply gone underground. if we can call it that. he writes. Let me return for a moment to Clifford Geertz. under given environmental circumstances. If we ask what interacts with the environment. cultural and environmental causes. pp. ‘may finally be that we all begin with the natural equipment to live a thousand kinds of life but end in the end having lived only one’. the answer is the people themselves. Towards a relational approach I am not myself content with this way of thinking. who is in turn alive and active within a particular environment. And human behaviour has to be understood as the result of a three-way interaction between both culturally and genetically transmitted information and the environment. then. There is the genetic channel. and its precise form is liable to bear the mark of these activities. Vol. is conceived as a movement from the universal to the particular. 29 Human life. The fact is that our bodily equipment. And the growth of the body is an aspect of the very same developmental process by which we gain proficiency in the particular kind of life that we lead. Society and Policy 2008.Genomics. people are the producers as much as the products of their own history. But there is also a separate. what people do is not merely the effect of genetic. the division is made on the level of underlying instructions – between innate and acquired components of the programmes that guide all behaviour. That is to say. what each of us begins with is a developmental system. prior to their differentiation by culture. for example. or between the innate and the acquired. ‘One of the most significant facts about us’. www. or from biology to culture. I do not believe it makes any more sense to reduce biology to genes than it does to reduce culture to analogous units of information (‘memes’) that inhabit the mind. shared with other animals such as the beaver. in the same paper to which I referred earlier.4.1. Society and Policy. 28 Advocates of the interactionist view often claim that they have long since dispensed with the dichotomy between nature and nurture. Genes and culture do not interact with the environment. Even the skeleton. There has to be something wrong with any explanatory _____________ Genomics. 30 Human beings. entailing a gradual ‘filling up’ of capacities and ‘closing down’ of possibilities.com 33 .

would never be the same again. in one form or another.gspjournal. we were all told on television and radio.com 34 . Society and Policy. Presidents and heads of state literally queued up to pile on the rhetoric. contemporary science has been rehearsing a nature-nurture debate that has been around. the scientists proclaimed. to speak a certain language.1 (2008) ISSN: 1746-5354 © ESRC Genomics Network. The much vaunted human genome project. for centuries. we were told. No.1. and in the newspapers. the environment plays a decisive role in shaping human nature. in turn. Regardless of what happens to the individual in question. the genes do not make us what we are. for example. that we were witnessing the birth of a totally new era in human understanding. In themselves. Pundits proclaimed that our conception of ourselves. that we jump to the conclusion that our biology must lie in the genes. they are fully biological. and therefore that it is the genes that make us what we are. then. and of what he or she does. For it soon turned out that the number of genes was simply too small to specify much of what makes a human being. pp. This idea was well _____________ Genomics. growing up and. www. and that most of these genes are anyway shared by all kinds of other creatures that could hardly be more different from ourselves. 32 Clearly we have a major problem with ‘biology’ when it comes to human beings. ranging from the mouse to the nematode worm. when people in modern western societies speak of human biology. Much of our fascination with genes lies in our understanding that they do indeed remain (virtually) fixed and unchanging for every individual throughout life. Contrary to what had previously been thought. all those specific abilities that have classically been attributed to culture – to walk in a certain way. Society and Policy 2008. No wonder. But within a few months all that was water under the bridge. some years ago. But – and this is the really crucial point – biological differences are not genetic. in a particular environment. as human beings. They only make a difference in the context of the life histories of whole human beings. No. In that sense. Instead. rests on a central idea. which is present right from the moment of conception and that remains unchanged for the entire duration of the life cycle. Vol. namely that there is such a thing as a human genome – in other words. 31 Even parents of identical twins know this to be untrue! The source of the difficulty lies in the notion that culture is an extra ingredient that has to be ‘added in’ so as to complete the human being. In reality. scientists claimed finally to have unravelled the human genome. Vol.4. Now. that a context-independent. At the root of the problem is our obsession with the idea that for every individual human being there must be something fixed and stable. When. hereditary specification of the essential form of humanity actually exists. and so on – are incorporated. through processes of development. they had made a new and even more radical discovery. raising their successors. Most often. indissolubly body and mind. genes make no difference. Thus they seem to provide concrete proof of the existence of the individual human essence that we had always imagined. to sit or squat. on a par with the discovery of fire or the invention of the wheel.4. they mean this constant thing that is supposed to reside inside each one of us.23-37 scheme that needs to base itself upon the manifestly ludicrous claim – in the words of the evolutionary psychologists John Tooby and Leda Cosmides – that ‘infants are everywhere the same’. somehow orchestrating our growth and development.Genomics. How depressingly familiar all of this sounds! Far from ushering in a radically new conception of ourselves. they do not mean the scientific study of human organisms. as properties of human organisms. it is always supposed to be there.

Nature and Society: Anthropological Perspectives. 381 fn. for example. 34(2): pp. The Perception of the Environment: Essays on Livelihood.23-37 established long before science in a recognisably modern form ever got off the ground. Palsson eds. against what is (rightly or wrongly) perceived as a militantly anti-scientific. To do so. 5 A recent discussion of these issues is P. 11th September 2007 2 Department of Anthropology. the journal American Ethnologist recently carried a forum discussion on the theme of ‘genomics and racialization’ (American Ethnologist 2007. that the post-modern critique of the culture concept has so far had little purchase on anthropological endeavours to reintegrate ‘biology’ and ‘culture’. Graves-Brown. Race. Descola & G. W. New York: Free Press. Society and Policy 2008. Society and Policy. 2002. It is debateable how many sociocultural anthropologists would still subscribe to the view that humanity comprises a mosaic of distinct cultures. Race. London: Routledge.4. and I am optimistic that it will eventually prevail. “The Ghost of Cain?” Neanderthals. Vol. It is no surprise. No. we must acknowledge that our humanity is not naturally given as a hereditary endowment but is an ongoing historical project – or rather. Race. 14. Imagining Nature: Practices of Cosmology and Identity. New York: Free Press. away from the razzmatazz of media hype and billion dollar research contracts. In the context of these endeavours. pp. N. 4 For an authoritative treatment of this history. P. However the contemporary critique of modernism has tended to exacerbate the split between the ‘biological’ and ‘sociocultural’ divisions of anthropology. ‘culture’ is still taken to mean much the same as what it meant to the anthropology of fifty years ago. K. By and large. And we have to recognise that every one of us is forged in our organic being within this ensemble and plays his or her part in moving it along. but because it is deeply embedded in the institution of science itself. London: Pluto Press. Bubandt & Kalevi Kull eds. it is not because it represents the peak of scientific achievement. No. Loving Nature: Towards an Ecology of Emotion. UK. _____________ Genomics. moreover – so long. 265-6. been subjected to extensive critique over the last two decades.Genomics. Evolution and Social Life. University of Aberdeen. that is. Antiquity 1996. Stocking. In addition. Wade. My argument has been that in order to exorcise the spectre we need to wrest biology away from the stranglehold of geneticism. however. can the spectre of race finally be laid to rest. A.com 35 1 . T. postmodern humanism. then. Aarhus: Aarhus University Press. and to adopt instead a relational approach that focuses on the emergent and dynamic properties of developmental systems. Culture and Evolution. Indeed behind the scenes. Racism and Speciesism. T.ac. If it continues to dominate our thinking about the advance of human selfunderstanding. see G.gspjournal. Stocking. anthropologists and philosophers have been laying the foundations for just such an approach. of course. 54-55.4. tim. 2002. 2000. Nature and Culture: An Anthropological Approach.ingold@abdn. 7 See G. Ingold. Ingold. 2003. Culture and Evolution.uk 3 See. 1986.1 (2008) ISSN: 1746-5354 © ESRC Genomics Network. So long as it persists. as do biological anthropologists themselves. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1996. 8 Modern anthropology’s concept of culture has. www. Only then. Dwelling and Skill. that the notion of genetic inheritance is wedded to an essentialist definition of the human sub-species – the spectre of race will not go away. London: Routledge. a whole ensemble of such projects – that we have to work at. Paper presented at the symposium What is special about the gene?. Milton. Cardiff University. 1968. London: Routledge. 6 See P. 70: 978-981. This commitment is commonly defended in the name of Science. the few sociocultural anthropologists who continue to seek a rapprochement with biological approaches in the discipline remain committed to the modernist paradigm. 1968. Roepstorff.1. pp. 210251). 33 This is work that is actually set to revolutionise the way we think about ourselves. M. W. a number of biologists. Vol. pp.

See C. Gudding. Aunger. New York: Free Press). The Electric Meme: A New Theory of How We Think and Communicate. 10 _____________ Genomics. p. R. note 7. 4(3): 321-335). Galton. The principal protagonists were Franz Boas on the former side. No. pp. 1994. 22 ibid. New York: Basic Books.. 24 F. p. 17 On the debate in American anthropology between those who saw culture as a property of individuals and those who saw it as a property of groups. 27 ibid. 101: 569-70.1. had much success in anthropology. cit.. The ‘meme’ meme. Darwin 1874. Murray.W.) Biology and the Human Sciences. 37-43. English Men of Science: Their Nature and Nurture. It has not. The Meme Machine. Richerson & R. C. C. in J. The Bell Curve: Intelligence and Class Structure in American Life. Class and Culture. Society and Policy.org/positions/race. 2002. Culture and Human Diversity. Vol. Costall. London: John Murray. An Anthropologist Looks at Biology. pp. 179.. The Superorganic. London: John Murray.L. on and off. Race.gspjournal.52-7. The Interpretation of Cultures. Current Anthropology 1994.O. cit. See P.com 36 . Dawkins.J. 45.S. note 21. 25: 208-29.1.) 1990. 28 This is the foundation for the so-called dual inheritance model of gene-culture co-evolution. cit. Ingold. Blackmore. 19: 163-213. Culture..4. The novelty of Dawkins’s idea has been hugely exaggerated. note 7.23-37 9 E. 25 Kroeber. 362-4). Society and Policy 2008. Perilous Ideas: Race. 1976. op. cit. pp.physanth. 13 F. Mass.J. note 7. It is undoubtedly among cognitive psychologists. op. Oxford: Oxford University Press. rather than as a group per se. p. On the differences between Tylor and Darwin concerning the educability of ‘savages’. Darlington. 57-8. Ibid. however.html. American Journal of Physical Anthropology 1996. Cambridge.S. 21 A. 1996. perhaps the best evidence for the idea of the meme as a cultural replicator lies in the success with which the idea itself has caught on (see A. for example. AAPA Statement on Biological Aspects of Race. cit. The Phenotype/Genotype Distinction and the Disappearance of the Body.. 12 Among the most notorious of recent examples was R. 19 See R. Boyd. also available at http://www. 23 Geertz refers to it by the notion of consensus gentium. 15 See T. op. C.: Harvard University Press (Belknap).: Harvard University Press. that it has been most positively received (see S. Tylor. 1981. note 23.: pp. See C. Oxford: Clarendon Press. 1999. 16 That is why. Cultural Dynamics 1991. I: Basic Postulates and a Simple Model. 35(1): 1-12. p. and Culture. 217-18. Journal of Social and Biological Structures 1978. Cultural Psychology: A Once and Future Discipline. 20 See E.H. 14 American Association of Physical Anthropologists. pp. op. see Ingold. note 23. Geertz 1973. Boas. Stanford: Stanford University Press. Durham. could still argue – in a lecture published by a prestigious academic press – that the ranking of classes in modern societies corresponds to hereditary differences in intellectual ability and should be preserved in the interests of civilisation. one of the leading biologists of the day. Man (N. 57(3): 525-45. London: Macmillan. The Selfish Gene. 176. It is shocking to find that at late as 1972. and Culture. New York: Free Press. 1972. Genes. American Anthropologist 1917.B. Outside the realms of advertising.). Language. 49-50. 29 Geertz. pp. Coevolution: Genes. least of all among social and cultural anthropologists. Wolf. Lumsden & E. A Dual Inheritance Model of Human Evolutionary Process. when biologists do speak of collectivities of one kind or another. New York: Free Press. 1874. 165. Kroeber. Darlington.. p. see Ingold. most of whom find the idea repellent..4. Cole. Primitive Culture (2 vols. 1871. Journal of the History of Ideas 1996. Pringle (ed. Vol. pp. 18 On the origin of this distinction and its impact on the history of twentieth-century biology. 11 On the misapplication of intelligence testing regimes in cross-cultural contexts. www. 4. The population is understood as an aggregate of discrete individuals. Herrnstein and C. pp. and Alfred Kroeber on the latter. for decades (these are reviewed in Ingold. J.1 (2008) ISSN: 1746-5354 © ESRC Genomics Network. 230-6. People. Similar proposals have been made.D. W. 1: 127-54. Mind. see G.D. 1991. Biological anthropologists have given it somewhat greater credence (see. Cambridge.. Oxford: Oxford University Press).Genomics. 26 The paper is reprinted as Chapter 2 of Geertz. Wilson. however. and Tylor’s change of heart. p. Race. cit. they commonly have resort to the notion of ‘population’. see M. The Descent of Man and Selection in Relation to Sex (2nd edition). op. Mass. 1940. No. op.

Sibatani & G. and Symbolic Variation in the History of Life. Evolving skills. Cohen and M. Maturana and F. Vol. eds. Mass: MIT Press.) The Adapted Mind: Evolutionary Psychology and the Generation of Culture. p. From Complementarity to Obviation: On Dissolving the Boundaries Between Social and Biological Anthropology. R. Beyond Neo-Darwinism: Introduction to the New Evolutionary Paradigm. see S. 33. Cambridge. 1985. M-W. Cambridge. L. Cosmides and J. and to which I have myself contributed. psychology.com 37 . Jablonka & M.C. Carroll. Rose & S Rose (eds. Webster. Vol. Saunders. Endless Forms Most Beautiful: The New Science of Evo Devo and the Making of the Animal Kingdom. 1989. P.4. Wartofsky. 31 J. J. _____________ Genomics.C.D. New York: Norton. to say that a number of approaches are currently being pursued. B. 255-279. 1993. Mass: MIT Press. In H. is that of the ‘developmental systems theory’ (DST) of Susan Oyama and her colleagues.E.gspjournal. 2000. Archaeology and Psychology. Varela 1973.Genomics. Evolution in Four Dimensions: Genetic. eds. Reidel.A. 1992. www. Epigenetic.) Alas Poor Darwin: Arguments Against Evolutionary Psychology. Lamb. anthropology and philosophy – see S. Gray (eds. London: Jonathan Cape. see.E. 1984. Oyama. pp. Oyama. The Ontogeny of Information: Developmental Systems and their Evolution. Cambridge. No. Behavioral. S. Autopoiesis and Cognition: The Realization of the Living. see T. which have in common a concern to rebalance the relation between evolutionary and developmental processes. Barkow. 33 It would be more accurate.T. New York: Oxford University Press. 2005. Mass: MIT Press. eds. Society and Policy. S. Tooby (eds. The Psychological Foundations of Culture. London: Academic Press. In J.) Cycles of Contingency: Developmental Systems and Evolution. The approach with which I am most familiar. On the application of the concept within anthropology. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press. Tooby & L.1. Dynamic Structures in Biology.D. Griffiths & R. Dordrecht: D. Society and Policy 2008. Cycles of Contingency: Developmental Systems and Evolution.4. Ingold.H. away from the strict subordination of the latter to the former that is characteristic of contemporary neo-Darwinism. Griffiths & R. pp. Gray. S. Ingold 2000. Oxford: Oxford University Press.B. inter alia.1 (2008) ISSN: 1746-5354 © ESRC Genomics Network. Goodwin. 225-246. P. 32 T. For a representative sample of work in DST across a wide interdisciplinary field – including evolutionary and developmental biology. H. in S. 2000. The Origins of Order: Self-Organization and Selection in Evolution.23-37 30 On the concept of the developmental system. ethology and ecology. pp. New York: Random House. perhaps. 2005. A. Oyama. Cosmides. Kauffman. W. No. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. E. eds. For other approaches. Ho & P.

Genomics. pp. 2 which could well lead to the realization of new basic laws of physics. No. _____________ Genomics. became a pioneer in structuring the physio-chemical investigation of life by way of an informationtheoretic outlook albeit with an on-going expectation that he would eventually hit up against the limits or ‘paradox’ that Bohr prophesized. and then proceed to work one’s way ‘up’ to the complexity of a whole living system. space in which the Watson and Crick breakthrough was received a decade later. Inspired by Delbrück. they would be destined to co-exist independently.1. Vol. we still cannot predict when that feat will be accomplished. 4 Schrödinger’s artful rhetoric did much to shape the terminological linguistic. If biologists were able to build a living organism.com 38 . already presupposed a preformationistic understanding of the relationship of the genotype to the phenotype that he. hypothetical or otherwise. out of purified parts. Society and Policy. Niels Bohr famously speculated that there was no way to bridge these two standpoints. www. For all the indisputable success of reductionist approaches in biology we are still not yet so very close to being able to explain how an embryo develops or even how a single cell functions. And unless and until it is accomplished (and maybe even after that) the study of the living will be uniquely burdened with the dilemma of whether to try to grab onto basic units or parts. on the model of the wave and particle in quantum mechanics. even the simplest of living cells. Society and Policy 2008.1 (2008) ISSN: 1746-5354 © ESRC Genomics Network. took to be the standing view of the genetics of his time. that rather. Vol. in a relation of perpetual complementarity. No. or to begin at some minimum level of intact living complexity and attempt to poke it and probe it. it would certainly do much to settle methodological and epistemological conundrums over questions of relative holism versus relative reductionism and presumably it would bring biology into a more seamless continuum with the physical sciences. But how to relate the one to the other also remains an open question – bold claims by behavioural geneticists notwithstanding. unlike Delbrück. hypothesize about it and take its measure in every conceivable fashion while yet preserving its integrity as a living system. A protégé of Bohr. Schrödinger’s own point of departure. somewhat naively. Earlier in the century. Erwin Schrödinger 3 proceeded to predelineate a new informational/linguistic vision of life with his anticipation of an ‘aperiodic crystal’ that would be the substrate of his so-called ‘hereditary code-script’.gspjournal.4. Not that these need be mutually exclusive approaches – far from it. the reduction of living complexity to bio-molecular information wasn’t a strategy for recovering the truth of Bohr’s complementarity at a more analytically refined level but rather was the entry-point into the promised land itself. For Schrödinger however.38-57 The Meanings of the Gene and the Future of the Phenotype LENNY MOSS 1 Introduction Grasping at Complexity How does one analyze a living organism? It’s not as easily settled a question as it may sometimes appear. Max Delbrück. and thereby conceptual. however. Good intentions and boastful ambitions notwithstanding.4.

eg. Johanssen distinguished between the genotype and the phenotype precisely to ward off the temptations of naïve preformationism. simultaneously introduced the term ‘gene’.4. along the contemporaneous formation of a eugenicist social agenda. Society and Policy 2008. Notably. Johanssen laid the groundwork for genetics to become a modern. the red and white flowers. 5 I will return to the question of the significance of biological formulations for anthropological self-understanding at the end of the paper. to be able to stand outside of the worlds of social and political interest. as if it these were the traits themselves. Whether Mendel himself had conceived of his ‘unit-characters’ as the basis of a thoroughgoing analysis of the organism or merely as a practical device for aiding plant breeders. it _____________ Genomics.38-57 In addition to purely epistemological complexities (as if these weren’t already hard enough).1. Vol. Vol. pp. provided was not merely another gene-type concept but a way to put a gene-type concept to work. Mendel’s unitcharacter clearly opened a window onto something. Wilson in the U.gspjournal. No. Both Weismann in Germany.. like red or white flowers. No.com 39 . that eventually come to be seen. there was no reason for him to do otherwise as it would merely have been a methodological shorthand. But if indeed Mendel’s intent was purely instrumental (as Falk as argued). By distinguishing between a ‘genotype’ and a ‘phenotype’.1 (2008) ISSN: 1746-5354 © ESRC Genomics Network. 8 Genotype. www. has been a subject of debate. Society and Policy. By simply referring to the transmission of unit-characters. although I will only be able to focus on the former in this instant. but the nature and scope of that something was by no means defined or circumscribed by Mendel’s findings.S.4. and E. Johanssen’s (non-preformationist) Gene The distinction between a ‘genotype’ and a ‘phenotype’—between that which is physically transmitted in the germ and that which comes to appear with maturation in the next generation—was introduced by the Dutch botanist Wilhelm Johanssen who. a fallacy that Johanssen never attempted to hide his disdain for. an irreducibly normative affair. In other work I’ve suggested that the late nineteenth/early-twentieth century (re)turn to a preformationistic outlook in biology cannot be separated from the hardening and physicalization of social understanding expressed for example in the rising emphasis on race and racialized theories of history. no matter its particular formulation. in 1909. A concept of the gene. Of course many issues turn on just how the nature of that grasp is construed. is put forth as a possible handle with which to grasp hold of the complexity of the organism. Mendel himself did not even distinguish between that which is transmitted in the seed and the traits. The concept of the gene ultimately has to be understood as arising in both epistemological and sociopolitical contexts. B.Genomics. that were transmitted in the seed he spoke in the idiom of preformationism. environment and phenotype thus always constituted a triadic relationship for Johanssen. 6 anticipated a gene-like concept prior to the turn of the century. independent and basic empirical science concerned with elucidating the relationship between that which is chemically transmitted from one generation to the next and the contextually conditioned realization of a particular organismic outcome from within a certain genotypically prescribed possibility space termed the ‘norms of reaction’. There can be little doubt that by the end of the nineteenth century the time was ripe for something like a gene-concept to emerge. rediscovered in 1900. What Mendel’s paper. the understanding of the nature of the living organism is far too closely linked to questions of human self-understanding. as Rafael Falk 7 has argued.

it would not have thereby denied genetics the status of being scientifically or medically interesting and worthwhile but it should have set certain limits upon what Mendelian genetics was in the business of disclosing. be they called genes.4. it is in most cases a normal reaction (character) that is the “allele” to an abnormal. detrimental to the welfare of this little friend of the geneticist. Bb and so on. which could not and would not be decomposed. which are rather superficial in comparison with the fundamental Specific or Generic nature of the organism.H. and as yet we are mostly operating with “characters”. The pomace-flies in Morgan’s splendid experiments continue to be pomace flies even if they lose all “good” genes necessary for a normal fly-life. Vol.Genomics. www. the possibility of dissolving genotypes into relatively small units.4. by etherization… The rich material from the American Drosophiliaresearches of Morgan’s school has supplied many cases of multiple allelisms—most of all of them being different “abnormalities” compared with the characters of the normal wild fly… To my mind the main question in regard to these units is this: Are experimentally demonstrated units anything more than expressions for local deviations from the original (“normal”) constitutional state in the chromosomes? Is the whole of Mendelism perhaps nothing but an establishment of very many chromosomal irregularities. the exact nature and scope of the relationship of genotype to phenotype remained open and undecided.g. Vol. that is. When we regard Mendelian “pairs”. Yellow ripe peas is normal. No.. We are very far from the ideal of enthusiastic Mendelians. This holds good even in those frequent cases where the characters in question may have the greatest importance for the welfare or economic value of the individuals. Society and Policy. allelomorphs. for example. Let’s take a look at what he had to say: Certainly by far the most comprehensive and most decisive part of the whole genotype does not seem to be able to segregate in units. viz. then genetics _____________ Genomics. Morgan. or if they be possessed with all the “bad” genes.gspjournal.38-57 was this bit of conceptual housekeeping that quite likely induced T. Aa. for example. to ‘convert’ to genetics and become the leader of the new discipline.1. If Johanssen were right. No.com 40 . pp. disturbances or diseases of enormously practical and theoretical importance but without deeper value for an understanding of the “normal” constitution of natural biotypes? 10 Now if Johanssen were right. factors. or something else. Society and Policy 2008. what it could be right about.1 (2008) ISSN: 1746-5354 © ESRC Genomics Network. the embryologist and Mendelian skeptic. By 1923 it was clear to Johanssen. Personally I believe in a great central “something” as yet not divisible into separate factors. e. that the phenotype cannot be fully decomposed down to an ensemble of separable units but rather that there was a core ‘great central something’ as he says. the green is an expression for imperfect ripeness as can easily be proven experimentally. 9 If Johanssen’s phenotype/genotype distinction provided some conceptual leverage against encroachments of naïve preformationism.

I call this sense of the gene. Society and Policy 2008. Finally I will suggest that we are at the threshold of a new transformation in our understanding of the phenotype. a child of the seventeenth century. however. No. but one would be mistaken. Johanssen. While defined by a predictable relationship to a phenotype. that each discloses something about the phenotype. and the like which has been very successful in finding its way to the public ear. www.1. writing thirty years before Watson and Crick.Genomics. Vol. Rather. Invoking Johanssen’s perspective is meant to serve as a kind of cognitive/perspectival resource. with regard to specific nucleic acid sequence. that is. the gene for breast cancer. but only as if. To speak as if the transmission of a gene were tantamount to the transmission of a phenotypic trait is to speak in the idiom of preformationism. No. What allows something to satisfy the conditions of being a Gene-P is some predictable relationship to the appearance of a certain phenotype.4. is not an expression of the ontology of preformationism but only of an instrumental deployment of it. pp. or for cystic fibrosis. ‘Gene-P’. but that. Preformationism. Society and Policy. was expressing what is simply become an outdated view. but limited perhaps to certain relatively superficial aspects of it.gspjournal. by contrast. Vol. taken to its extreme would hold that all of the traits of the mature organism are already determined and present at birth. My interest in this matter is not particularly historical but rather pertains to how we now should best understand the relationship of genes to phenotypes. The proper contemporary use of Gene-P. Gene-P versus Gene-D So what is this distinction? And what are these two gene concepts? When one speaks of a gene for blue eyes. properly understood. what will be argued is that precisely on the basis of the best contemporary understanding can we most fully appreciate just how prescient Johanssen’s insights really were. neither suggests that the phenotype can be decomposed down to an ensemble of genes – indeed quite the contrary. one is using a concept of a gene that is defined and specified by its relationship to a phenotype. could not possibly have foreseen the breakthroughs that molecular biology has provided for grasping onto the inner-workings of the organism and yet there is one current meaning of ‘the gene’ consonant with what Johanssen articulated that continues to stand up to critical scrutiny.com 41 . I will argue that on the basis of strictly current scientific and clinical usage that there are two distinctly different senses of the gene. there were a definite certain something that was transmitted between generations and that dictated a _____________ Genomics. or for Marfan Syndrome. I will then go on to consider some of the implications for our understanding of the phenotype that are derived from these gene concepts taken separately. of course. Gene-P. One may want to surmise that Johanssen.38-57 would still be providing a certain kind of grasp-hold onto the complexity of the organism. is the result of an illicit conflation of these two meanings. blueprints. and I will make some gestures in the direction of what the consequences this may hold for our theory of evolution and for our anthropological self-understanding. I will also suggest that much of the hyperbolic talk about gene as program.4. The P in Gene-P stands for ‘preformationist’. is indeterminate with respect to DNA structure. If Johanssen were right then the truth of genetics would not be that of the wholesale genetic decomposability of the organism qua phenotype—and thus other ways of grasping onto that central core something would still be ultimately required.1 (2008) ISSN: 1746-5354 © ESRC Genomics Network. To speak of a Gene-P for a phenotype is to speak as if.

because a Gene-P is characteristically based on the absence of some sequence. What genetic probes can do is to survey some set of the relevant ways that a “normal” sequence may be absent. If there are 900 documented ways for the normal sequence to be absent resulting in a Gene-P for cystic fibrosis. working at the cell and molecular level. is defined by molecular. is that it is not the presence of some specific sequence that correlates with the appearance of a phenotype. In the medical genetics clinic. DNA. Gene-P is used as a predictor of phenotypic outcomes such as the likelihood of having a child with cystic fibrosis or of contracting breast cancer given a family history. but because a Gene-P is indeterminate with respect to sequence. this counts as a gene. probes can only probe for particular ways of not having the normal sequence and never fully rule out the possibility of some other way of not having the ‘normal’ sequence. might it not be the case that the lack of an ability to specify a phenotypic trait on the basis of DNA sequence is just due to a lack of knowledge? _____________ Genomics. It is indeterminate with respect to its DNA sequences and so there is not a certain something that is being transmitted. Society and Policy. The disciplinary context in which the meaning of the gene as GeneP is the most clear-cut is the medical genetics clinic.38-57 distinct phenotypic outcome. In the modern genetics clinic. www. finds in cases of Gene-P. No. traditional family pedigrees can be supplemented or even replaced by the use of molecular probes. How can this be? Would it not simply be a matter of empirically fleshing out what the structure of the physical referent would be? The answer is no. over 900 different documented DNA sequences that may show up as ‘the gene for cystic fibrosis’.Genomics. The genes of classical genetics were Genes-P. But as we’ve already said.4. Gene-D. To heritably lack the wherewithal for producing brown-eyes is thereby to possess the Gene-P for blue eyes. Whereas Gene-P is associated with. however it is that they may be lacking it. then for a biologist. is the lack of something. the assurance that two blue-eyed parents may be given that a child of theirs would also have light-colored eyes is based upon the assumption that neither blue-eyed parent has the genetic resource for producing brown-eye pigment. If some stretch of DNA provides the template out of which a strand of RNA of complementary sequence is produced. but rather an uncertain something. And the reason the answer is no is that what one almost always. sequence but is indeterminate with respect to phenotype. Gene-P is indeterminate with respect to its physical referent. Likewise. Vol. a phenotype and thus brings the notion of the ‘phenotype’ into the semantic reference space of the word gene. There are. indeed defined by. Society and Policy 2008.1 (2008) ISSN: 1746-5354 © ESRC Genomics Network. and there are always many ways for something to be absent. But why would that be? And again. allelic abnormalities that do not provide the basis for decomposing the core of an organism. As Johanssen suggested. but rather the absence of some ‘normal’ sequence resource that is at issue.gspjournal. What is inherited.com 42 . ie. Vol. No. Genes-P can be of great medical and or economic significance but they are essentially. if not always. but Gene-P is no longer limited to classical methods. To count as a Gene-D entails this and nothing about the ability to predict a phenotypic outcome. the lack of a normal resource for producing brown eye pigment. for example. pp.4. Molecular probes are targeted to a specific sequence. what is passed on. by contrast. then it would require 900 different probes to exhaust the possibility of there being a Gene-P for cystic fibrosis given current knowledge – although in practice this is modified by statistical data pertaining to the frequency of particular mutations in different populations.1.

There are many different ways in which cellular context makes all the difference with respect to what the effects of NCAM gene expression are going to be in any situation. in-principle explanation for why a DNA sequence does not determine a specific phenotypic trait would be that any particular DNA sequence can in itself only contribute to any number of different. Society and Policy. But there are no NCAM proteins that contain the products of all 19 exons. No. which of these would come to be the case.1. or specifying. As a taste of things to come. and why it is indeterminate with respect to phenotypic consequences.4.38-57 A possible. that is.com 43 . first an mRNA transcript is produced in the nucleus that contains all 19 of the NCAM exons. a great many of which have been identified at the messenger level. Whereas Gene-P does its conceptual work through offering a peformationist standpoint. the other two being called the ‘cadherins’ and the ‘integrins’. and contribute to. NCAM is a member of a very large family of homologous genes called the Immunoglobulin Superfamily (IgSF). The first of these. Vol. which depends upon the complex of proteins that are involved in splicing. Gene-D assumes a causal-explanatory framework which seeks to elucidate exactly that full-fledged molecular-developmental account. but only instrumentally and predictively. but in order to do so must abstain from delegating causal privileges or priorities prior to the achievement of the empirical account itself. the famous fruit fly. 13 Characterizing the scope of variability of isoforms derived from differential splicing is still in its infancy and will ultimately have much to say about the relationship of genomes to proteomes. 14 These isoforms are found on the surface _____________ Genomics. we’ve already seen. The ‘D’ in Gene-D stands for ‘developmental resource’ and is meant to evoke exactly this type of reasoning. is best illustrated with the help of an example.Genomics. phenotypic outcomes and thus can never be adequate to the task of narrowing down. is capable of giving rise to 38. pp. a myriad of different. pertain to which isoform is expressed. My example called NCAM (for the neural cell adhesion molecule) is representative of a very large class of Genes-D called ‘cell adhesion molecules’ of which more will be said when the lessons or implications of Gene-D are discussed. www. phenotypic outcomes and cannot in itself determine which phenotypic outcome it will ultimately contribute to. The contingent functional specification of the product of a gene begins with the splicing out of certain exons from the RNA transcript – a process that is not and cannot be determined by the gene itself. as the best we can do in the absence of a full-fledged molecular developmental account of an often pathophysiological outcome. have only one Gene-D for NCAM in their genome (although as diploid organisms we would have two copies of it).000 different isoforms.4. Like the great majority of molecular genes. Humans. Vol. and often even antithetical. Genes-D. 12 In the process of synthesizing an NCAM protein. The NCAM gene consists of nineteen exon units. Study upon study at the cell and molecular level shows that any particular Gene-D can participate in. 11 The IgSF is one of three such families of related genes associated with cell-adhesion functions. and other vertebrates.1 (2008) ISSN: 1746-5354 © ESRC Genomics Network. Society and Policy 2008. NCAM is composed of multiple exons which are the modular units that actually contain the template information for synthesizing messenger RNA and thereby protein. and even antithetical. No. Hundreds of different isoforms of NCAM in mammals have been identified. which is the point of this example. But there are multiple ways in which the very same genetic template can be put to very different uses. the cell-adhesion molecule called DSCAM found in Drosophila.gspjournal. The character of Gene-D.

As each of these domains carries its own functional portfolio. However. and in either case as to what kinds of synapses are being formed. the cytoplasmic compartment of the cell. is the consequence of whether or not the product of the fifth exon domain becomes decorated with large negatively charged chains of polysialic acid (PSA). the cellular context can greatly influence the adhesive and signaling properties of a given molecule. 15 Without the ability to form new synapses.1 (2008) ISSN: 1746-5354 © ESRC Genomics Network. In the brain of the adult rat. The loss of PSA-NCAM (polysialylated NCAM)—a change that is independent of any changes in the Gene-D for NCAM itself—is associated with the loss of neural plasticity. Society and Policy 2008. The NCAM protein is associated with the cell membrane. contain the domain coded for by exon number eighteen and contribute to synaptic stabilization as that domain interacts with cytoskeletal components within the neuronal cell. In the 2003 volume of the review journal Current Opinion in Cell Biology. www. the Editors summarily observed that ‘In general. The largest of the NCAM isoforms.gspjournal. variation in the domains expresssed will have direct and indirect ramifications on the phenotype.4. Far more dramatic. the protein is attached to the cell membrane and also how much of the protein will extend into the interior. NCAM isoforms lacking the eighteenth exon domain but heavily decorated with polysialic acid predominate through embryonic development. and memories could not be retained.38-57 of embryonic retinal cells as they extend outward in the exploratory formation of synaptic connections in the development of the compound eye of the fly. unlike that of the visually-dominant human. with most of its length extending outside of the cell where it may come into contact with other cells. The same cadherin behaves differently in different cell types. and whether. ie. skills and habits could not be learned and acquired. those that are designated as ‘180 KDa’ in size.Genomics. the olfactory bulb is a hotspot for structural rearrangement. pp. Now even though all of the NCAM proteins come from the same Gene-D. But how and why does variation in isoform matter? The different domains of NCAM that are coded for by one or two exons are associated with different biochemical and physiological activities. Vol. Cell and developmental context will influence not only what structural form of a cell adhesion molecule is realized from a multivalent genetic template but even how any particular isoform will function. then stable behavior patterns could not become established. ie. if there is no synaptic stabilization. The fact that a single Gene-D can give rise to a greater number of isoforms of a protein than there are genes in the human genome should be quite suggestive as to where post-genomic biology will be heading.4. whose world is principally disclosed through the olfactory sense. Of central importance in the developmental physiology of neural tissue is the balance between neural plasticity. ie. 16 What is true for NCAM is true for Genes-D in general and for other cell adhesion molecule genes in particular. the form they take will make all the difference as to whether they are contributing to the stabilization of synapses. Society and Policy. Vol. No. in the issue dedicated to the biology of cell adhesion. How the NCAM is spliced will affect how. the ability to form new synapses versus neural synaptic stabilization. however. For the rat. No. or to synaptic plasticity.com 44 . polysialylation is found only in regions that continue to undergo structural rearrangement. _____________ Genomics. and the same is true for integrins and other adhesive proteins’. in regions associated with new learning. neural development simply could not take place in the embryo but neither could new learning take place in the adult.1.

Vol. of the genotype as the means for understanding the phenotype had been based largely on the de facto conflation of Gene-D with Gene-P.4. ie.gspjournal. For many ‘Systems Biology’ has become the research programme.38-57 What Must be True about Organisms for Genes-P to Exist? If a gene. as we’ve seen. Looking ahead into twenty-first century post-genomic biology.Genomics. does not and cannot determine a phenotypic trait in itself. which borrows and blends from two categorically different disciplinary contexts within biology and medicine. the phenotype itself has become poised to take center stage. Ironically. classical genetics parsed the phenotype into traits precisely according to whether such parsing was serviceable for further elucidating the genotype. nothing stood in the way of continued attempts to decompose the organism into so many Genes-P. Vol. This enterprise took a new turn with the characterization of DNA as the heritable source of templates for synthesizing protein.1 (2008) ISSN: 1746-5354 © ESRC Genomics Network.com 45 . and thus the arrival of Gene-D. can it even be possible for a Gene-P to exist? Is Gene-P a special subset of Gene-D? If not. during the last half of the twentieth century. certain evolutionary psychologists. Parsing the phenotype according to the rules of Mendelian inheritance gave birth to Gene-P. While the idea that the phenotype could be fully decomposed into a conglomeration of genes. or blueprint. and so long as no more powerful approach for understanding the phenotype came on the scene. as a Gene-D. The sequencing of the human genome and the move to genomics can well be seen as the culmination of an enterprise and the exhaustion of a research strategy. that is specified simultaneously by its nucleic-acid sequence and its phenotypic consequence. There was nothing in the experience of classical genetics that warranted the assumption that a phenotype would be fully decomposable into genotypic units and Wilhelm Johanssen. Daniel Dennett and Steven Pinker as well as large numbers of science journalists. www. pp. perhaps. Despite the de facto independence of Gene-D as an organizing concept in molecular-level biology. it is precisely the empirical knowledge gained within the disciplinary context _____________ Genomics. Following Mendel’s lead. in the second half of the twentieth century it has been the conflation of Gene-P with Gene-D that has given rise to the idea of the master-molecule. beyond the conflation of Gene-P and Gene-D. heir apparent. However. the continued primacy. It is this conflationary view of the gene.1. so long as classical genetics could see an open road ahead for further elaboration of the genotype qua Gene-P. then what is it that causes the phenotypic outcome that defines Gene-P? What has to be the case about an organism for Genes-P to exist? And what is the relationship between Gene-P and Gene-D? Throughout most of the twentieth century elucidating the genotype had been the central strategy for understanding the phenotype. Society and Policy 2008. then how. was dead certain that it would not. that underlies the genecentered conceptions that have been advanced by certain evolutionary biologists and philosophers. Society and Policy.4. each of which roughly codes for a trait. began with those zealous Mendelians that Johanssen took to task. No. and which has been given a broad public exposure by the likes of popularizers such as Richard Dawkins. one may well wonder. empirically understood as a piece of cellular chemistry that has the capacity to serve as a template for RNA synthesis. No.

off-center lenses in the eye and myopic vision and—the medically most significant trait—is susceptibility to aortic aneurism that can only be detected by an echocardiogram. onto the complexity of the phenotype. considered separately. showing no preference with respect to region.Genomics. No. it is from these features that the association with Abraham Lincoln is derived. joints that are unusually loose and somewhat injury prone. No. or gender. It is the result of a failure to properly incorporate the connective tissue protein fibrillin-1 into the microfibrils of developing connective tissue throughout the body. pp. Vol. Most characteristic of Marfan Syndrome is a tall. Unburdened with the shackles of conflation. we can now ask what is illuminating about Gene-P and about Gene-D? Listening to Gene-P The Case of Marfan Syndrome Examining two very different examples of Genes-P will help to address the questions that I’ve posed about the nature of Gene-P. What makes a gene a ‘gene for MarfanSyndrome. Society and Policy. The face tends to be narrow and the palate high. thin stature. a propensity for scoliosis. Marfan individuals will frequently have unusually long limbs with long and tapering fingers and toes. both Gene-P and Gene-D can provide new points of entry into the construction of a theory of the phenotype. any of these genes for Marfan Syndrome can be tracked by pedigree analysis or by molecular analysis given the right molecular probes. Marfan Syndrome is also known as Abraham Lincoln disease. But let us consider just what is the relationship of a gene for Marfan-Syndrome to the phenotype. albeit very different windows. Vol. Society and Policy 2008. It was first characterized by Antoine Marfane in 1896 in a five-year-old girl possessed of unusually long tapering fingers. Gene-P and Gene-D. with the culmination of this enterprise in genomics and with the disambiguation of Gene-P and Gene-D a new horizon presents itself. a gene for a certain phenotype and thus a Gene-P. 18 Marfan Syndrome is a disease of connective tissue.com 46 . the expression of which are highly variable (pleiotropic).’ that is.4. Where for a century much of biology has been structured around the attempt to understand the phenotype on the basis of the genotype. Beyond conflation.1. The two Genes-P that I will discuss are the genes for Marfan Syndrome and BRCA1. As is typical of a Gene-P.38-57 of Gene-D that allows us to definitively disambiguate and de-conflate Gene-P and Gene-D. Marfan syndrome is characterized by a set of traits. 19 Any of these could ‘show-up’ as a Gene-P for Marfan Syndrome. its relationship to Gene-D. each opens a window. is its predictive relationship to a phenotype. Like the five-year-old French girl mentioned above. nationality. Other features include a breastbone that is either pushed in or pushed out. There are at least 150 mutations of the Fibrillin-1 gene (Gene-D) associated with Marfan Syndrome. Marfan syndrome 17 appears in one in ten thousand individuals worldwide.1 (2008) ISSN: 1746-5354 © ESRC Genomics Network. While it isn’t known whether Abraham Lincoln was in fact a Marfan. The analysis of the genotype can longer be taken as a substitute for that theory of the phenotype that we have yet to realize.4. www. It displays a cosmopolitian range of distribution. the gene for breast cancer. sometimes athletic. and what kind of window onto the phenotype each gene concept provides when no longer conflated with the other.gspjournal. What is it that causes the characteristics associated with the phenotype? Is there any good sense in which a gene for Marfan Syndrome can be construed as carrying information or coding for a trait? Does the _____________ Genomics.

No. for the developing phenotype to developmentally ‘style itself’ in a recognizable way. yet some individuals with the same mutation will also differ and some individuals with different mutations will present a great deal of resemblance. there is no corresponding normal gene with specificity for a phenotypic contrast class. in its adaptive plasticity. there are numerous mutations (at the BRCA1 locus) that meet the criteria for being a gene for breast cancer. properties that simply cannot be decomposed down to atomic units. like that of blue eyes. given a certain class of perturbations.Genomics. As is the case with other Genes-P. In addition. Vol.com 47 . provides another useful example because it differs from the gene for Marfan Syndrome in all its particulars and yet the take-home lessons about the relationship between Gene-P and Gene-D. Individuals who differ with respect to which of the 150 mutations they carry are seen to show phenotypic differences. The Gene-D for fibrillin-1. Society and Policy. transport. a Marfan phenotype may be found in individuals without a mutant fibrillin-1 gene at all. this capacity. does not. Marfan individuals will vary with respect to specifics. Vol.gspjournal. ie. Within a context of ‘family resemblance’.38-57 gene for Marfan Syndrome tell the developing body to be tall and lanky. or to have a high palate or to be near sighted? Certainly not. The Gene-P for Marfan Syndrome reveals this systematicity. Society and Policy 2008. The Case of BRCA1 BRCA1. its ability to phenotypically shift directions while yet retaining its overall integration as a functional system. favor a short and squat phenotype any more than it favors a tall and slender one. are the results of what human bodies do in the absence of a certain otherwise typical molecular resource. There is no gene that codes for an Abraham Lincoln phenotype.1 (2008) ISSN: 1746-5354 © ESRC Genomics Network. Now what about the Gene-D for fibrillin? If the example of Marfan Syndrome has made good on the claim that a Gene-P is indeterminate with respect to molecular structure or sequence—and that it is only an instrumental predictor of the phentotype it is associated with—what does the Marfan example have to say about the claim that any Gene-D will be indeterminate with respect to phenotype? As is the case in relation to any. and what it is that a Gene-P reveals about the phenotype. are quite consistent. given a certain constraint or perturbation. for example. but Marfan Syndrome reveals that the systematic properties of the human phenotype are such that. because any perturbation. some set of Marfan characteristic will result. No.4. or microfibril assembly can lead to the same type of polyphenic outcome. or almost any. www. The features of Marfan Syndrome. Marfan Syndrome is an expression of the polyphenism of the human phenotype.1. BRCA1 has been the flagship gene for the enthusiasts of germ-line genetic testing. genetic or otherwise. Gene-P. The Gene-D for the fibrillin-1 template sequence can be used in many different ways in different contexts and it will always be the larger developmental context that will determine toward which phenotypic outcome the gene-product will contribute. Defined by this phenotypic prediction.4. pp. that interferes with fibrillin synthesis. the ‘gene for breast cancer’. that is. Owing to the interest that BRCA1 _____________ Genomics. BRCA1 or the gene for breast cancer is a Gene-P. 20 A positive result with a molecular probe test for the presence of a BRCA1 gene correlates with an 85% likelihood that a woman from a family with a history of breast and/or ovarian cancer will contract breast cancer at some point during her own lifetime. the normal gene. The wherewithal for responding to this absence is inherent in the complex systematicity of the phenotype.

Vol. the deletion of only a small percentage of the weakly _____________ Genomics. usually around 80%.com 48 .4. whereas the remaining 20% are linked to many other nodes and thus constitute the ‘hubs’. then. 21 The tips of the BRCA1 protein have the capacity to bind to the RNA polymerase enzyme. from social networks. network-theoretic properties of the phenotype? We will borrow from the scale-free network analysis developed by the physicist Albert-László Barabási. to find that most nodal points. www. becomes: why do mutant germline forms of BRCA1. Hubs would clearly play a critical role in maintaining a fixed diameter of a system and when.38-57 has garnered since first being identified. not onto the decomposability of the phenotype. is the Gene-P for breast cancer giving us a porthole. network-wise. and the targeting of proteins for intracellular degradation . No. The ‘diameter of a system’. to living cells. the “normal” BRCA1 is not a gene for healthy breasts. BRCA1 is a large multi-modular protein that has been implicated in several different functions within the nucleus – transcriptional regulation. In other words. Barabási and coworkers found that 93% of proteins have five or fewer links.1. BRCA1 (the protein) is active in the nucleus of the cell. of the single-celled organism yeast.and it is apt to be found in every cell in every tissue in the body. while present and active in every type of cell in the body.4. Just as the Gene-D for fibrillin is not a gene for short and stocky phenotypes. chromosome remodeling. Unlike fibrillin. for example. What becomes suggestive is the possibility that what may best account for why germline mutation in the BRCA1 gene shows up as a Gene-P exclusively for breast cancer can be best approached in terms of the role of the BRCA1 protein in a complex network of interactants. show up as a Gene-P specifically for breast cancer? 22 What does this Gene-P disclose about the nature of the phenotype (and perhaps about cancer as a potential inherent within the phenotypic possibility space)? The BRCA1 protein in the nucleus of the cell has been shown to serve as a kind of platform upon which other proteins assemble in stage. that is the entire ensemble of expressed proteins. but like any Gene-D is indeterminate with respect to phenotype. and the middle region of the protein has been shown to bind to a wide variety of both transcriptional enhancers and transcriptional repressors. Society and Policy. investigators have found that systematic adjustments take place in the metabolic network such as to enable the diameter of the network to remain constant. which alas is also called BRCA1. pp.gspjournal. Barabási and co-workers 24 looked at yeast proteins simply in terms of the number of the other proteins that any particular protein interacted with. the molecular biology of the Gene-D. can be reckoned in terms of the maximum number of links that it would take to connect any two nodes in the system. DNA repair.and tissuecontingent ways. nor does it show any specificity for breasts at all. airline flight patterns and the Internet. The distribution of BRCA1 with respect to tissue type and developmental stage is described as ‘ubiquitous’. has been intense since it was first identified over 20 years ago. 23 In studies of the proteome. yeast species have evolved the ability to metabolize new substrates. The number of proteins that interact with BRCA1 has been described as astronomical. have only small numbers of linkages to other nodes. 25 In further examining yeast. It has been typical of Barabási’s studies of networks of all kinds. Vol. No. whereas only 7% of proteins have 15 or more links. The interesting question.Genomics. Not surprisingly. Society and Policy 2008.1 (2008) ISSN: 1746-5354 © ESRC Genomics Network. which is secreted into intercellular space and becomes a structural component of the body’s connective tissue. but onto previously invisible.

not difference. properties of the phenotype resident in every nucleus in every cell of the living body. If a gene product served as a ‘hub’ in every tissue. but it would be a quirk that could allow this Gene-P to reveal something hitherto invisible and unimagined. occur before puberty and most often occur beyond a woman’s childbearing age. Vol. but seldom if ever. and thus indivisible. synthesis. _____________ Genomics. to be associated not with enzymes and structural proteins but with signaling and the regulation of transcription and splicing.1 (2008) ISSN: 1746-5354 © ESRC Genomics Network. it cannot be a developmental-lethal.1. or in any developmentally vital process. No. quite to the contrary.4. then it would simply be a kind of quirk about the systematic relationships of regulatory proteins in the nucleus of mammary cells that would result in BRCA1 mutations showing up as Genes-P for breast cancer. The population genes.gspjournal. whereas the deletion of the majority of the hub proteins proved to be lethal. Although purely speculative at this point.Genomics. Society and Policy. No. for something to show up as a Gene-P. across taxa. I will just pick out some of the more salient features of his comparison. Vol. Gilbert distinguishes these as ‘Population Genes’ versus ‘Developmental Genes’. Breast cancers associated with germ line mutations of BRCA1 are quite variable in terms of age of onset. 26 writing in a largely pluralistic mood. as the population geneticists had assumed. Interrogating Gene-D Finally. or Evo-Devo. being characterized by molecular biologists interested in evolution have been found to show great similarity. It could turn out to be the case that BRCA1 isoforms play a sensitive role in maintaining something like a uniform network diameter in the nuclear regulatoryprotein system of post-pubescent mammary cells. the developmental genes. whose physical referent were hypothetical. were thought to be atomistic units responsible for distinctively different enzymes and structural proteins that would result in distinctively different phenotypic traits with different fitness values for adult organisms competing for survival. to be most significant in their expression not in the adult but in the embryo. Society and Policy 2008. www. the developmental biologist. textbook author. By contrast. but. pp. Because the post-pubescent mammary gland will constitute its own distinctive biochemical context. and historian of biology Scott Gilbert. Should this prove to be the case. what window or windows onto the phenotype might be revealed by Gene-D when no longer burdened by conflation with Gene-P? In a recent article entitle ‘Genes Classical and Genes Developmental: The Different Use of Genes in Evolutionary Syntheses’. about the systematic. not about the decomposability of the phenotype. it is wholly plausible that an otherwise ubiquitous molecule could play a distinctive role from a network perspective. provides a perspicuous comparison between the beliefs about genes held by the population geneticists who advanced the ‘Evolutionary Modern Synthesis’ and those of the contemporary molecular biologists who are trying to advance a new evolutionary-developmental. First of all. its absence would likely be lethal and so not show up as a Gene-P at all.4. and to be context-dependent parts of a pathway rather than acting in a context independent atomistic fashion.38-57 linked proteins proved to be lethal to the yeast. suddenly we have a completely new model for what a Gene-P might be revealing about the phenotype.com 49 .

38-57 It should be evident at this point that what Gilbert has described as the presuppositions of population genetics about the nature of the gene are exactly what I’ve described as coming to constitute the conflationary view. but are used in increasingly flexible and nuanced ways. www. 29 Genes-D. as we’ve already mentioned. single copy-genes that are dispersed through the genome. and one way of asking what Gene-D can tell us about the nature of the phenotype is to see how these compendia change over evolutionary time. with less than 7% of the increase in gene number based on apparently new modules. mouse to human. Vol.1. for example. as we previously discussed. elegans.4. So. Society and Policy. 27 But in seeking to clarify the further implications of Gene-D for understanding the phenotype. C. have only at most twice as many Genes-D as invertebrates. On the one hand. the answer to these questions appears to be yes. After all. there are unique. does the lumpiness have a meaning that we can interpret? By the looks of some recent studies. the complete set of expressed proteins derived from the vertebrate genome appears to be at least five times as great as that derived from the invertebrate genome. What Gilbert has described as the developmental gene is exactly what has emerged out of the disciplinary context of Gene-D. fish to mammal. 28 Comparative Genomics and Gene-D When we look at organisms of different levels of complexity.com 50 . No. No. On the other hand. While vertebrates. So. pp.gspjournal. invertebrate to vertebrate. In comparing the human and mouse _____________ Genomics. and it turns out that even this very moderate difference in gene number is based largely on the reshuffling of old exons to produce new combinations. are composed of modular units called exons. evenly distributed across the genome or is it lumpy? And if it is lumpy.1 (2008) ISSN: 1746-5354 © ESRC Genomics Network. The difference between genome size and proteome size would be largely accounted for on the basis of the ability to generate multiple isoforms through differential RNA splicing. there are families of closely related genes that are grouped together on the chromosome in tandem clusters. what we see at the level of genomic differences is that what appears to correlate with changes in complexity is not gross increases in novel genetic resources but rather the intensification of the ability to use the same basic resources in a greater number of ways. we now know that phenotypes of different levels of complexity are composed of largely the same set of modular resources. the output of genome projects is simply compendia of Genes-D.Genomics. single-celled to multicellular. What we see at the level of comparative genomics becomes greatly magnified at the level of comparative proteomics. including humans.4. Society and Policy 2008. what kinds of changes in the genomes appear to coincide with changes in the complexity of the organism? The Human Genome Project upset traditional expectations by revealing that humans have only twice as many genes as the fruit fly and only one third more than the tiny nematode worm. A systematic comparison 30 between the DNA sequences of human chromosome 19 and those of the homologous chromosomal regions of the mouse suggests that the ensemble of Genes-D that constitute a genome fall into two distinct categories. Can the window that Gene-D opens up on the phenotype give us any more insight into how this expansion of the use of genetic modularity is distributed? Is it. we can supplement the characterization that Gilbert has provided with a comparative analysis of the findings of different genome projects and other studies that have made evolutionary comparisons from the point of view of Gene-D. Vol.

it can transmit a signal into the cell that results in some change in the physiological and/or transcriptional state of the cell. While there are doubtlessly interesting things to say about all four of these categories. each of which specializes in binding some subset of that same range of ligands. and growth/development were particularly enriched’. For our third scenario (cell #3). let us imagine that for the same range of ligands that our one receptor could bind to.4. www. It is estimated that the number of isoforms of proteins from the human IgSF alone would exceed the entire genome size of both fruit fly and nematode worm. J. thus one of ten different signals. membrane surface interactions.4. that results in the reshuffling of modular exon units and thereby the production of greater protein diversity. Might it be the case that exactly those genes that provide the templates for basic enzymatic and structural capacities that the population-theoretic architects of the Evolutionary Modern Synthesis assumed would be the basis of evolution. I will focus briefly on one of which we’ve already introduced. pp. And let us say that when the receptor binds to the ligand. No. found that the expansion of gene families comes about through an incomplete duplication of genes. But what might this tell us about the nature of the evolving phenotype? To answer this question. would come under the heading of two of the groups cited above – membrane surface interactants and genes associated with immunity and defense.1. what was found was an “overwhelming” conservation of sequence of single-copy genes and extensive differences in genes residing in tandem familial clusters. The Immunoglobulin Superfamily (IgSF).1 (2008) ISSN: 1746-5354 © ESRC Genomics Network. In the second scenario (cell #2). Vol. Is there any specificity to which gene-families are found to expand in relation to apparent evolutionary increases in organismic complexity? In their 2002 report in Science magazine. we now have 10 different receptors. 31 They found that such segmental duplication is not distributed randomly throughout the genome. 32 Let us consider what one can construe about the nature of the phenotype through the porthole that the Genes-D of the IgSF provides. to the interior of the cell. let us compare this to two other scenarios. Cell adhesion molecules constitute an important subset of those gene families associated with cell surface interactions. of which I said NCAM is a member. Whereas humans have only double or fewer the number of genes overall than the fruit fly or worm. Given what we have already observed. there are 765 IgSF genes in the human genome compared with 140 for fly and 64 for worm. No. All indications are that the comparative findings for other cell adhesion gene families. Rather they report that ‘genes associated with immunity and defense. What appears to be the case is that a core set of single-copy genes has been a constant throughout the animal kingdom going back to the most primitive stages. Bailey et al.Genomics. Now. would be quite similar. Society and Policy.A. the cadherins and the integrins.38-57 sequences. imagine first that a cell (cell #1) has a single receptor on its surface that is capable of binding to some closely related range of ligands (a ligand simply being a molecule with which a receptor may bind). Society and Policy 2008.gspjournal. drug detoxification. Vol. and that each of these receptors can then transmit a different signal. a little bit of extrapolation would not be out of order. referred to as segmental duplication.com 51 . are precisely those that have by and large not evolved at all? The evolutionary history of Genes-D appears to be associated with the expansion and contraction of differentiation of families of closely related genes or ‘gene-families’ that are found to be present in tandem clusters on chromosomes. let us imagine that we now _____________ Genomics.

their ‘world. I argued that from at least two different angles we can see why the question of the phenotype is back on the table. and in a measure of increased autonomization. is that there are systematic. self-organizing capabilities of the phenotype which will not yield to the kind of decompositional approach that has held sway during much of the past century. and thus a massively greater capacity for phenotypic flexibility.1 (2008) ISSN: 1746-5354 © ESRC Genomics Network.4. 33 I’ve been speaking of the cell as if it were a kind of microcosm of the whole organism in its relationship to an environmental surround.1. but let’s also think of it as the unit of multicellular development. scenarios two and three (cells #2 & #3) represent a marked increase both in the sensitivity of the cell to nuanced differences in its surround. No. somewhat light-heartedly. pp. theoretical biologists Gerd Müller and _____________ Genomics. www.Genomics. as ‘molecular vitalism’.38-57 have ten different receptors that vary.com 52 . as what we experience as increasingly complex forms of life. responsiveness. I will mention a few of the more salient examples. ie. and describe their postgenomic proposal for an integrated cell and organismal physiology. Vol. Society and Policy 2008. Without even attempting to survey exhaustively the relevant sources.gspjournal. The evolutionary expansion of the repertoire of cell-surface adhesion and signaling receptors with the IgSF and other gene-superfamilies can be seen as a key factor in the evolution of ‘world-openness and ‘detachment’ ie. a property that could also be described as increased ‘detachment’.’ Where an organism is composed of cells that have evolved the capacities of cells #2 & #3 (as opposed to merely that of cell #1) there would be an enhanced capacity for making fine distinctions about their surround. for executing internal-state-dependent ‘choices’ about how to respond to even the same stimuli. 34 criticize the limits of the machine metaphor in biology. What is not light-hearted for them is the idea that the phenotype needs to be understood on its own terms.4. Society and Policy. In the ‘Millennium Issue’ of the prestigious molecular biology journal Cell. nor for that matter any gene-centered approach at all. In their more recent The Plausibility of Life. Phenotype First? The analysis of Gene-P and Gene-D aspires to provide a perspective with which to break bread once again with Johanssen and rethink the meaning of genes and phenotypes from their roots up. A developing organism’s developmental trajectory is largely realized through the interaction of its cells with each other and with aspects of their environmental surround. and structured neither on the basis of the machine metaphor nor that of genetic information. albeit in different ways. Vol. Taken together. Kirschner and Gerhart 35 draw on the latest findings in cell and developmental biology to explain the active role of organisms (ie. No. Beyond the Gene in Developmental and Evolutionary Biology. not with respect to their binding specificity. What Gene-P and Gene-D both reveal. In their anthology Origination of Organismal Form. Marc Kirshner and Tim Mitchison of Harvard and John Gerhart of Berkeley. whereby the internal state of the cell can determine which receptors to use to probe its surround. of phenotypes) in ‘facilitating’ the production of evolutionary variation. properties that could also be described as an increased ‘openness’ of the organism to its environment or its world. but only with respect to the signal that they transmit back to the interior of the cell. and adaptability.

Genomics. have been exploring the idea that organismal form originates with the inherent properties of living tissues. constitutes the principal source of evolutionary innovation. pp. Likewise. of the phenotype. not through the evolution of a new species. contributors to the recent anthology called Cycles of Contingency 37 share the inclination to recontextualize genes. West-Eberhard’s goal is nothing less than a radical transformation of our theory of evolution based upon a phenotypecentered biology. 38 whose 800 page tome is entitled Developmental Plasticity and Evolution. These roles. Vol.1. that undergo metamorphosis. 37% of these species are found to have adults that do not always undergo metamorphosis. The colonization of land was achieved in her view. and that genes are secondary factors whose role began largely as that of stabilization. Society and Policy 2008. A polyphenism is the ability of an organism to undergo radical shifts in its phenotypic expression. The loss of a later stage of development is known as neoteny.4.1 (2008) ISSN: 1746-5354 © ESRC Genomics Network. These stages are as follows: 1. 27 genera of fish with facultative airbreathing capabilities. as one resource among many. The systematic capability of the phenotype to undergo adaptively plastic transformations in response to a new input. correspond well to my GeneP/Gene-D distinction. in West-Eberhard’s model. and it has played a major role in various evolutionary events and transitions (including human evolution as discussed below). ie. Polyphenism may be a source of both de novo evolutionary innovation or the redeployment of phenotypic forms already present within a latent developmental and/or ecological phenotyperesponse repertoire. If genetic it would be in the sense of Gene-P.38-57 Stuart Newman.gspjournal. www. No. Society and Policy. understood in a Gene-D kind of way. polyphenic capability to respond adaptively to the challenge. There are. Phenotypic Accommodation: The organism draws upon its plastic. Recurrence or Initial Spread: The phenotypic shift spreads through the population either due to the recurrence of the initial input or the spread or other means of inducing the phenotypic shift. as it happens. Of the 113 species of salamander. for example. New Input:The phenotype is exposed to some form of perturbation that could be either environmental or genetic.com 53 . has been that undertaken by biologist Mary Jane West-Eberhard. which in the case of humans means cultural institutionalization. Vol.4. 3. The most sustained and impressive effort of all. She suggests a four-stage model of adaptive evolution in which genes may play two decidedly different roles. for example. _____________ Genomics. No. To this I would add the suggestion that the phenotype-illiciting input could become stabilized as part of the organisms ‘constructed niche’. This often involves shifts in developmental timing that can have drastic effects on the phenotype including the entire loss of a later stage of development. thus shifting much of the adaptive and innovative centre of gravity back to the systematic capacities of the organism itself. 2. by genera of fish most of whom did not give rise to land inhabiting species. Much of West-Eberhard’s painstaking study is devoted to documenting the ubiquity of polyphenisms across all living taxa. The capacity for breathing on land was already ‘anticipated’ and multiple times. but rather by way of polyphenic adaptations by a species already invested with facultative air-breathing capability. 36 along with contributors to their volume. however. first of all. in conceptualizing the dynamics of developmental systems.

for example. b) adjusting the form of the trait. differential survival) occurring within the context of the new selective regime introduced by the phenotype. a general developmental underdetermination and underdevelopment. The process of genetic accommodation. but she considers a genetic mutation to be a relevant candidate as well. Genetic accommodation. and no longer conflated. pp.gspjournal. which could be a single mutation or an environmental cue.. there arose a ‘philosophical anthropology’ that located the natural basis for the higher cognitive faculties of humans not merely in a new adaptation but in a full-bodied. a weakening of the body. Genetic accommodation improves the novel phenotype in three or more different ways. is about Gene-D. and Gene-D clearly distinguished. shouldn’t be too difficult to discern. a weakening of the senses. entails selection at multiple loci. Genetic Accommodation: Unlike the initial input. These early perceptions were given a more firm empirical foundation by the German _____________ Genomics. West-Eberhard thinks that the most likely source of the initial input is environmental. which is also to say that none of the loci.1 (2008) ISSN: 1746-5354 © ESRC Genomics Network. independently has a determinate relationship to the resulting phenotype. it is all the more easy to appreciate West-Eberhard’s proposal that in evolution it is the phenotype that leads the genotype.1. Perhaps the best way to conceive of the process of genetic accommodation is to recall the clustered groups of related genes associated. as is the symmetry she depicts between such a mutation and an environmental shift (ie. sensu West-Eberhard. a loss of directed skill. Genetic Accommodation occurs simply by way of natural selection (i.38-57 4. with cell-cell recognition and adhesion. as she understands it.4. The improvement and stabilization of the new phenotype would be a complex function of many regulatory nodal points. tightly coupled. but are now competing in the ability to best achieve it. to change the frequency of expression of the trait or conditions under which it is expressed.com 54 . Vol. and she may well be right.Genomics. but a perturbation to which the phenotype responds in a coherent systematic fashion. two types of ‘perturbations’) that could trigger the same response.4. Minute differences in both coding and non-coding regions of DNA could confer relative advantages or disadvantages in a wholly complex and context dependent fashion. Selection may be thought of as akin to that of multiple parallel processing systems that have already been entrained toward realizing that outcome that the adaptive phenotype had established. How an organism deploys its repertoire of cell-adhesion molecule variants is a problem in the regulation of a complex system. that triggers the phenotypic shift. No. specialized relationship to particular natural surrounds. No.e. Society and Policy. www. This depiction of a mutation constituting. Gene-P and Gene-D. genetic accommodation takes places at multiple loci (this would now be the Gene-D sense of genetic). and analysis of. Developmental Clues and the Origins of the Human Phenotype Beginning with Herder and Kant in the mid-eighteenth century. The genetic heterogeneity is that which was already present in the population prior to the phenotypic shift. not new information for the phenotype. systematic breaking away—a loss of organismic specialization. its integration and efficiency. c) reducing disadvantageous side effects. Society and Policy 2008. These are: a) adjusting regulation. The resonance between West-Eberhard’s model and my distinction between. is exactly in tune with the characterization of Gene-P. With Gene-P. Vol. and thereby detachment from a stable.

38-57 philosophical anthropologists of the mid-twentieth century. as Merlin Donald 40 has taught us. failing to succeed in gaining a foothold in the Anglophone philosophical world. Neotinization was by no means the entire basis of the evolution of the human socio-cultural capacity but it may well have been a necessary point of departure. it evolved in socio-cultural space.1. higher voices. lie between humans and chimps on the scale of neotinization. Despite stunning evidence for the role of polyphenism in general and neotinization in particular in human evolution. culture and cognition had been almost univocally devoted to piecemeal models of adaptation in which domain specific cognitive modules had been hypostatized very much in the image of conflationary genes taken to another level. a slower rate of maturation after birth. the sparseness and pattern of distribution of hair. No. the retention of the outer labia and the hymen and the lack of the penis bone. As compared with chimps. What we need and are beginning to find in the human brain are the bases whereupon humans can be susceptible to each other. In the image of the _____________ Genomics. and thus participants and co-producers in the ever-changing games of language. and the retention of the more frontal position of the vulva that allows bonobos.com 55 . are distinguished from chimps by their female dominant social structure and a polymorphous sexuality that serves as the social glue of an essentially non-violent system of social relation. and by considering the systematic consequences of retarding the rate of maturation at different early stages of development. such as Helmuth Plessner and Arnold Gehlen. late twentieth century thinking about the biology of human psychology. with domaingeneral. Society and Policy.gspjournal. Similarities with the juvenile chimp but not the adult chimp include the vertical attachment of the head to the spinal column. Society and Policy 2008. higher foreheads. more flattened face. It is interesting to note in this regard that bonobos. like humans. who while closely related to chimps. pp.Genomics.1 (2008) ISSN: 1746-5354 © ESRC Genomics Network. Those who have been looking for language and reason in the brain (and the genes that code for them) have been looking for the wrong thing in the wrong place. suffered a starcrossed fate. lighter bones. The empirical case to be made for the neoteny-based-evolution of the hominid line has only become more compelling over time and has been persuasively represented in a popular book by Clive Bromhall 39 entitled The Eternal Child. Language. a small jaw. to mate face to face. Vol.4. longer legs. Vol. www. No. interactively.4. and despite the fact of philosophical intuitions about human detachment and underdevelopment that date back 250 years. In recent years however there has been a coalescence of recognition coming from disparate directions of the essential sociality of the human organism. the everted lips. who associated these traits with the idea that the hominid line arose by way of neotinization (or juvenalization) from our ape ancestor. bonobos have more delicate facial features. reaching its apex between the wars. more upright walking. German philosophical anthropology. didn’t evolve in the ‘brain box’. the frontal position of the vulva. big rounded skull. in and through the socio-cultural matrix. the low position of nipples. With the upper body developing prior to that of the lower body. but unlike chimps. more rounded skulls. The case for neoteny is put forward both by demonstrating the far greater similarity of the adult human with the very young chimp. cross-module ‘executive’ capacities for leading our own epigenetic formation. much of the morphological transition associated with the evolution of the upright posture and bipedalism can be accounted for on the basis of extending the growth phase during which legs are formed and lengthened.

pp. D. Ditlevsen. Polysialylated neural cell adhesion molecule promotes remodeling and formation of hippocampal synapses. 18:193-199. D. Human Nature. 13 A.ac. Hereditas 1923. 1944. UK Lenny.Moss@exeter. Vol. Bock. V. Bringing Physics to Bear on the Phenomenon of Life: The Divergent Positions of Bohr. Seminars in Immunology 2003. 18 D.uk see N. Cambridge MA: Harvard University Press. What Genes Can’t Do. Bock. 4:133-141. 2004. 41 Suffice it for now to suggest that the shift to a new phenotype-centered biology will bring with it also opportunities. albeit not inevitabilities. No. 96: 507-529. Vol.1.4. III The Marfan Syndrome. S. Gravely. Department of Sociology and Philosophy. Delbrück. 8 W. Rønn. Defining Biology: Lectures from the 1890’s. 6 J. Barclay. Developmental Biology 1992. Domondon. 10 Johanssen. 1987.gspjournal. Journal of the History of Biology 1991. Maienshein.The neural cell adhesion molecule in synaptic plasticity and aging.Genomics. V. Zipursky. A. Studies in the History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences 2006. 28:219246. cit. Falk. The organization and evolution of the Dipteran and Hymenopteran Down syndrome cell adhesion molecule (Dscam) genes. Society and Policy. 2003. Dietz & D. 4:1799-1809. 24: 9372-9382. Journal of Neurosciences 2004. 24: 457-484. Journal of the History of Biology 1995. 14 B. 37: 433–88. Circulation 2005. Milewicz. neurologically based advances in social capacity could have been drawn out of the vast hominid phenotypic possibility space and stabilized in socio-cultural ritual that would be selectively advantaged in an environment of inter-group competition. McKusick. I have begun to explore elsewhere the implications of this work for philosophical anthropology and social theory. Some Remarks About Units in Heredity. Hartz & E. P. Kaur. Falk. 12 G. op. Gunning. 7 R. 10: 1499-1506. L. Moss. 9 R.1 (2008) ISSN: 1746-5354 © ESRC Genomics Network. University of Exeter. Experimental Gerontology 1998. 28: 127-141. Berezin & E. Miller. Rowen & J. 37: 9-25. 3 E. note 8 11 A. The molecular genetics of Marfan syndrome and related mircrofibrillopathies’ Journal of Medical Genetics 2000. Treatment of Aortic Disease in Patients with Marfan Syndrome. The neural cell adhesion molecule (NCAM) in development and plasticity of the nervous system. The Dominance of Traits in Genetic Analysis. Zorn & P. B. A. the Genetic Fallacy and the Philosophy of Anthropogesis’ Jahrbuch 2004 of the Kulturwissenschafliches Institut. No.38-57 new appreciation for the role of group selection in the evolution of sociality. Intracellular Signaling by the Neural Cell Adhesion Molecule. RNA 2004. Isis 2005. Johanssen. 4 L. Historical Studies in the Physical and Biological Sciences 2000. What is Life? Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Bock. Neurochemical Research 2003. H. Society and Policy 2008. 5 L. Dietz & R. 19 H. Mutations in the Human Gene Fibrillin-1 (FBN1) in the Marfan Syndrom and related disorders. Heritable disorders of connective tissue.. 16 A. Berezin & E. The Application of Complementarity to Biology: From Niels Bohr to Max Delbrück. Povlsen. www. Krieg. 15: 215-223. 111:e150-e157. for new and renewed shifts in anthropological self-understanding with all the ethical and socio-political implications that that might entail. Human Molecular Genetics 1995. 30: 417–42. 17 V. 15 L. Godfrey. Clemens. International Journal of Developmental Neuroscience 2000. Moss. The Struggle of Genetics for Independence. _____________ 56 2 1 Genomics. L. Cambridge MA: MIT Press. Roll-Hansen. Robinson & M. Rønn. McKaughan. Dityatev et al. ed. Membrane proteins with immunoglobulin-like domains—a master superfamily of interaction molecules. and Schrödinger.com . Journal of Chronic Diseases 1955. The Influence of Niels Bohr on Max Delbruick: Revisiting the Hopes Inspired by ‘Light and Life’.4. Pyeritz. 149:197-205. 33:853-864. Developmental Regulation of Alternative Splicing in the mRNA Encoding Xenopus laevis Neural Cell Adhesion Molecule (NCAM). 2:609-644. D. Schrödinger. Jorn Rusen.

Oxford: Oxford University Press. 78: 57-67. note 33. New Haven: Yale University Press. Cell 2000. Baily. 227: 1-7. 22 B. S.com 57 . cit.4. Developmental Plasticity and Evolution. Oyama. 29 Ibid. note 28. Jeong.38-57 J. Network Biology: Understanding the Cell’s Functional Organization. 73: 930-946. note 11. 20 _____________ Genomics. Nature 2001. One. Contra Habermas and Towards a Critical Theory of Human Nature and the Question of Genetic Enhancement. London: Ebury Press. Lethality and centrality in protein networks. 23 A-L. 40 M. Recent Segmental Duplications in the Human Genome. Agricultural and Food Ethics (in press). No. Springer International Library of Environmental. Beyond the Gene in Developmental and Evolutionary Biology. Falk & Rheinberger (Eds). Mitchison.N. Donald. Cancer Letters 2005. BRCA1: a review of structure and putative functions. Cambridge MA: Perseus. Science 2001. Many Genes. No. 30 P. 2003. Moss. Plasticity. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Proctor (Eds). 25 A-L. 2003. Newman (Eds). Moss. 37 S. Linked: The New Science of Networks. Beurton.1. (Eds) 2001.Genomics. 2001. 5: 101-114. 38 M. cit. Role of BRCA1 and BRCA2 as regulators of DNA repair. 60: 139-149. Moss. Redundancy. Yoshidia & Y. 100:79-88. Drenthen. Origination of Organismal Form. In New Visions of Nature: Complexity and Authenticity. Disease Markers 1998. 13: 261274. 2006. Oltvai. Barabási. Vol. 411: 41-42. Kirschner. 28 L. The Quarterly Review of Biology 2003. & S. 2008. Society and Policy 2008. and cell cycle in response to DNA damage’ Cancer Science 2004. 293:104-111. Billack & A..1 (2008) ISSN: 1746-5354 © ESRC Genomics Network. Mason & A-L. 24 H. 2003. The Eternal Child: Has Evolution has Made Children of Us All. Cambridge MA: The MIT Press. BRCA1 in breast and ovarian cancer predisposition. 41 L. Griffiths & R. Paterson. Human Chromosome 19 and Related Regions in Mouse: Conservation and LineageSpecific Evolution. L. 95: 866-871. Keulartz. op. 35 M. Moss. www. 34 M. 39 C. Gerhart. Molecular “Vitalism”. Miki. Society and Policy. 2000. Gray. Genomics and the Nature of Being Human. J. 36 G. transcription. op. pp. cit. 27 L. New Formations 2007. Science 2002. Vol. West-Eberhard. 31 J.A. Dehal et al. Kirschner & J. Barabási & Z. and Detachment: the Implications of Comparative Genomics for Evolutionary Thinking’ Philosophy of Science 2006. 26 S. Barabási. op. 2002. Moss 2008.J. Gilbert. Monteiro. 21 K. Nature Reviews Genetics 2004. Two (Too?). Müller. The Plausibility of Life. 33 Moss. Cambridge MA: The MIT Press.gspjournal. Detachment. 297:1003-1006. Cycles of Contingency: Developmental Systems and Evolution. A Mind So Rare: The Evolution of Human Consciousness. P. Gerhart & T. Genes Classical and Genes Developmental: The Different Use of Genes in Evolutionary Syntheses’ in The Concept of the Gene in Development and Evolution: Historical and Epistemological Perspectives. 32 Barclay. Bromhall.4. New York: Norton & Company.

the role of genes is increasingly under examination. genes are the authors of both similarity and difference. However. people who can’t remember jokes. though? Does it matter if a key feature is not observed in unwritten languages. if there are languages that permit structures that should be prohibited. Vol.58-73 Genes and the conceptualisation of language knowledge ALISON WRAY 1 Abstract While it would be difficult to dispute that individuals vary in their facility with both their native language and with foreign languages. pedants. loathers of poetry. More generally for society. Vol. they present an uncomfortable challenge for how we should handle evidence of genetically-based differences in fundamental language ability. _____________ Genomics. a central tenet of modern linguistics has been that such variation is secondary.4. and how we explain and address diversity. and it provides a socially acceptable approach to studying language form and function. particularly now with focus on how genes and environment might interact. But where does that variation come from? Since so much of our linguistic behaviour is evidently determined by our environment—by our education and experience in particular—naturally we will first look there for explanations of difference between individuals. Society and Policy 2008. those who struggle to grasp words on the tip of their tongue. We have all met the tongue-tied. However.gspjournal. punsters. 2 This new research offers linguists interesting challenges that extend beyond the domain of language description and modelling. pp. talented wordsmiths.com 58 .1. polyglots.Genomics. The proposed syntactic basis for equality has been a genetically-determined ‘language faculty’. to the heart of how we conceptualise our human linguistic heritage. 1 Introduction: Individual differences in linguistic ability It is indisputable that there is variation in individuals’ ability to produce and use language effectively. or if some individuals are less adept at managing purportedly universally understood configurations than others? How might culturally augmented features in language structure be inappropriately influencing claims about what all languages are like? These questions are directly relevant to those engaging with genetics because of the growing opportunities to explore the relative roles of environment and genes in determining aspects of our language knowledge and performance. which presumably arose early in the modern species and has reliably persisted in all individuals until today. should we find it. making their role in language complicated to unpick. www. No. No. diplomatic negotiators. Society and Policy.4. and fluent gossipers. How much fundamental uniformity of language knowledge is there. those who can remember the numbers but not the letters on a car registration plate.1 (2008) ISSN: 1746-5354 © ESRC Genomics Network. and there is a primary level of equality across all individuals. Syntactic theory and sociolinguistic theory have both contributed to the maintenance of this view.

No. through observation. These intuitions are assumed to represent those of all native speakers (see later discussion of this point in section 7. while others are peripheral. ascribes to us all a uniform ‘language faculty’ (described further in section 3). in this approach. repeated movements carried out standing up—can be attributed to physical and other characteristics shared by the dancers that are not themselves about dance (eg. desirable to capture the essence of a language system as a logical description of its properties. having procedural memory). as opposed to genetic predisposition. assumed to be the same for a given set of users. 3 Compare how people engage with their personal computers. configurations that do not always reflect maximum expediency in the communication of ideas. pp. and other dancers. 6 One can see. language as it is used in communication is considered a poor window on the underlying system.1 The ‘language faculty’ One approach to understanding the nature of human language. since various effects of production and performance intervene to present a partial and distorted impression of it.58-73 1. and others pick the dance up from them. 5 would either deny. Universal possession of this faculty means that all human languages are constructed according to its specifications. The native speaker’s intuitions. an ‘operating system’ that is independent of what users do. Society and Policy 2008. being bipedal. because intervening. is central to debates about _____________ Genomics. and this makes them all equally acquirable by children. and how a given sentence can be grammatically re-expressed. even from these two very imperfect analogies. less fundamental operations disguise it. and this is achieved using the linguist’s intuitions about what constitutes a grammatical sentence. and constraints on. No. Vol.gspjournal.Genomics. A more appropriate analogy for them might be how a dance is learned.1).4. www. that the role of cultural transmission. on the other hand. in usage. even countermanded.1. it is. Someone starts doing some steps. Society and Policy. while certainly exploiting aspects of its structure and bound overall to operate within what it permits. people using it. who use the faculty to navigate a fast and reliable route through their input. Judgments about what sounds right. reveal complex patterns of. or downplay the importance of. That it always remains a dance—that there are consistent fundamental features such as rhythmic. Thus. Not only might some aspects of the system not be reflected in their usage at all. There is a ‘system’ in the sense of a patterned dance. However. On account of the language faculty. the novices become the experts. and what they need to achieve. Vol. The language faculty is rather like the operating system. 4 Theories of language that are based on emergent properties. but a simple underlying structure may appear very different.4. the Chomskian argument is that the linguistic output of speakers is too channelled by circumstantial interventions to be an effective way of understanding the underlying system. may actually use it in rather odd ways that reflect the experience they have had with it. offer relatively direct access to it. and to have a logical shape that can be described. as well as a more general cognitive tendency to latch onto certain kinds of features as central. most strongly championed by Noam Chomsky. begin to pick up the patterns. Over time. but it does not exist independently of the dancers. and it may change over time. on the other hand. In contrast. to language-specific knowledge.com 59 .1 (2008) ISSN: 1746-5354 © ESRC Genomics Network.

in section 8. we acknowledge that our genes give us visible physical characteristics that make us look more similar to people in some populations in the _____________ Genomics. in section 7. make us like our family.1 (2008) ISSN: 1746-5354 © ESRC Genomics Network. No.4. The essential humanness of language is not unduly diminished by evidence that apes can make quite a good job of language comprehension 8 and that parrots display.2 Engaging with similarity and variation In this paper I want to explore some of the assumptions and claims about the role of genes in defining the nature of human language. an impressive command of semantics. but most of them are inherited and have only the appearance of uniqueness. even though they may be spoken to equally and in not dissimilar ways. The different positions can be characterised by imagining a generation that did not use the computer. Finally. 9 for there is no real evidence as yet that nonhuman species have grasped the key features of human language structure (see section 3).4. particularly but not only those responsible for visible traits. what could re-emerge.com 60 . of the assumptions underpinning the interpretation of apparent evidence for genetically-determined uniformity in language. and rather than rehearse existing arguments in depth. No. and how similar would it be to what had previously existed? 1. and different from each other. and in section 6. This leads to a testing. This is because I want to focus on some issues that have been less often brought out.gspjournal. and why it is attractive to maintain this belief. explanations for the origins of uniformity are considered. Between the two extremes of shared human-ness and individuality. I contextualise the discussion by exploring perceptions of genes as agents of similarity and difference. including our social unease when it comes to challenging the entailment of the language faculty account. our genes make us human and other species non-human.Genomics. I note the current interest in genetic variation in language performance. At this level. pp. we see our genes as part of the reason why we are different from even our siblings (unless we have an identical twin. in which case differences must be explained another way). Vol. but different from those outside the family. and consider the extent to which the role of environment in creating the appearance of genetic uniformity may have been under-estimated.1. Vol. Sections 3 and 4 deal with claims regarding the uniformity of our fundamental capacity for language. 10 At the same time. I shall often simply note their existence and move on. in comprehension and speech. In section 5. Society and Policy. Extending upwards. 7 In section 2.58-73 language. even in the face of potential counter-evidence. that all humans have an equal capacity for language at the fundamental level. 2 Genes as agents of similarity and difference Genes make us the same as each other. Individual characteristics can be the result of a random mutation or copying error in our DNA. or did not observe the dance: what would be left. Much has been published on this topic already. www. because no one else in the family happens to have expressed the trait. we also recognise how certain genes. genes explain why a child acquires language while the family dog does not. Society and Policy 2008. and the offering of an alternative explanation. At the species level. I itemise some evidence of variation at the fundamental level.

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world than others. Thus, our perception of the role of the gene contributes to how we construct our personal and social identity as a combination of differences from, and similarities with, others. Where in this picture, then, do we locate differences in people’s language ability? Are they reflections of those genes that make us individual—perhaps genes directly determining some aspect of our capacity for language—or are they a superficial, environmentally-determined layer atop fundamental uniformity for language ability? Or both? Generally, there has been a tendency to acknowledge that differences in aspects of our language ability can have a genetic basis, but to view the genetic component as non-linguistic, with linguistic consequences. For instance, poor memory or low concentration could affect the ability fully to benefit from opportunities for learning the finer skills of language presented experientially. Such explanations seem more comfortable for us than proposing that particular genes directly determine why our vocabulary size is different from someone else’s, or why we are particularly good, or bad, at learning other languages. Research evidence so far appears to concur. Although a single-point mutation of the FOXP2 gene has been associated with language deficits, the gene’s role seems to be in regulating brain development, with knock-on effects for language, rather than directly supporting articulation or grammar. 11 It may be feasible to explain everything about language in terms of the interaction of environmental influences and genetically-endowed abilities that are not of themselves specifically linguistic. What is uniform about how we engage with linguistic structure would, then, be a natural consequence of how these factors interact. However, proponents of the language faculty believe otherwise—the faculty is construed as a uniform, language-specific genetic inheritance. 3 Structural arguments for language uniformity Over some 50 years, Noam Chomsky has maintained that humans possess a “language organ” whose “basic character is an expression of the genes.” 12 According to Chomsky, our basic genetic endowment determines an “initial state of the language faculty”, “a ‘language acquisition device’ that takes experience as ‘input’ and gives the language as an ‘output’ … that is internally represented in the mind/brain.” 13 The language faculty is logically necessary, Chomsky claims, to explain how children acquire their first language with such extraordinary speed and consistency, irrespective of the quantity and quality of the input and, in particular, how they are able to infer certain grammatical patterns on the basis of only negative evidence. The faculty ensures that children know what to look for in the input, in order to make structural sense of it. 14 In recent accounts just two properties lie at the heart of this universal knowledge of language grammar: structure dependence and recursivity. After briefly reviewing the nature of each, we shall also consider one of the properties claimed to be consequential on them, Subjacency.

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3.1 Structure dependence In structure dependence, small units of language combine into larger units, and units maintain their underlying integrity if the sentence is reformulated. To briefly exemplify, turning the statement in (1) into the question in (2) entails the recognition that the ‘was’ that moves to the start of the question is the second one in (1), not the first one. The clause ‘that was seen in the River Thames’ is a unit embedded in another unit, ‘The whale was a juvenile’. The question formation involves this outer clause, not the embedded one, so that it is the verb in the outer clause that is fronted, not its identical counterpart in the embedded clause. 1) The whale that was seen in the River Thames was a juvenile. 2) Was the whale that was seen in the River Thames a juvenile? Chomsky argues that if children did not come to language acquisition already knowing the principle of structure dependence, they could all too easily infer, from simpler examples such as (3) that the rule was ‘move the first verb to the front’, an adequate way to generate (4), but also leading to the creation of the ungrammatical (5). 15 (The asterisk on (5) indicates that the sentence is classified as ungrammatical). 3) The whale was a juvenile. 4) Was the whale a juvenile? 5) *Was the whale that seen in the River Thames was a juvenile? The ubiquity of structure dependence in language, and its possible non-linguistic precursors in our species, as indicated by counterparts in animal cognition, 16 mean it is hardly contentious to suppose that humans possess some sort of innate disposition towards it. However, many, including Newmeyer, still see it as specific, in its instantiation, to the language faculty: “The structure dependence of grammatical rules might well have its evolutionary antecedence in some general human (or, more likely, biological) preference for structural solutions to complex problems. But structure dependence in grammar is a highly specific adaptation of this general preference.” 17 3.2 Recursivity Recursivity is the single feature identified by Hauser, Chomsky and Fitch as making human language unique. 18 Recursivity in language means that the output of one grammatical operation can act as the input for another. The effect is that there is no logical bar on the complexity of sentences. It is, for instance, grammatical to embed one clause inside another, then another inside that, another inside that, and so on (610). 19 6) The mechanic tells fortunes. 7) I know the mechanic tells fortunes. 8) I know the mechanic the tailor saw yesterday tells fortunes. 9) I know the mechanic the tailor who makes those suits saw yesterday tells fortunes. 10) I know the mechanic the tailor who makes those suits you were thinking of buying saw yesterday tells fortunes.
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3.3 Subjacency: a consequential property In Chomsky’s models until the mid-1990s, certain additional properties of language were considered universals in their own right. One of them was Subjacency. Subjacency constrains grammatical relations arising from embedding. When one clause is embedded inside another, grammatical dependencies can arise across them. An item in one clause may cross-refer to an item in another; an item in one clause may be deleted because it also exists in another, setting up a dependency between the explicit item and the gap where the deleted item was; or an item may be ‘moved’ into another clause in order to fulfil a particular function, as in English when wh-questions are created. Subjacency prevents the linked items—in the case of a wh-question, the moved wh-word and its original location (or trace)—becoming impossible to track, by constraining the amount and type of structural material that may intervene. The effect is to allow (12) but not (13) as grammatical developments of (11), even though (13) is simply a wh-fronted version of (14). 11) Elsie bought a coat. 12) What do you believe (that) Elsie bought? 13) *What do you believe the claim that Elsie bought? 14) You believe the claim that Elsie bought what? Chomsky’s Minimalist Program simplified the notion of Universal Grammar, by making principles like Subjacency a logical consequence of the two core features— structure dependence and recursivity—plus language-specific rules. 20 Thus, “the learning child … minimally needs a notion of hierarchical structure plus an understanding of transformations and constraints on them.” 21 Adherence to Subjacency is ensured if the child knows that the progressive stages by which a ‘transformed’ sentence such as a wh-question is constructed must occur sequentially, in “‘successive cyclic’ movements, each of which cross a minimal unit of structure.” 22 Violations of Subjacency occur when one or more of the individual cycles cannot be completed, on account of an item occupying a slot that must be empty when that cycle takes place. In section 6 we shall consider the claim that Subjacency cannot be construed as ‘universal’ since it does not manifest in all languages. 4 Social arguments for uniformity Although syntactic models of language knowledge and sociolinguistic descriptions of language behaviour have generally had little to say to each other, they have common socio-political foundations. Sociolinguistic theory has maintained over many years that varieties spoken by uneducated groups, typically viewed by the establishment as aberrant consequences of ignorance, are in fact no less complex or expressively rich than the standard variety. 23 These observations are consistent with the egalitarian Chomskian position: we all start with the same genetically endowed language faculty and use it to treat our input. Since our language faculty obliges us to shape our input data in particular ways, it follows that all output will be of the same fundamental complexity. Therefore, while socially imbued contrasts between languages and varieties cannot be denied, they are only that. Change the social conditions, and the
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that predisposed them to lesser. That is. family groups. or greater.1 (2008) ISSN: 1746-5354 © ESRC Genomics Network.com 64 .1. The association of invisible traits with visible ones is invidious because unless both are equally ubiquitous (and anything socially interpreted will tend not to be) the one is not a reliable index of the other. Dediu and Ladd propose that “[t]hose areas of the world where the new alleles are relatively rare also tend to be the areas where tone languages are common. No. and thus much more comfortable to downplay any notion of fixed ceilings of achievement. languages spoken by populations in which many individuals have some difficulty in processing tone will tend to lose their tonal _____________ Genomics.” 29 and that the relationship is causal—“the genetic structure of a population can exert an influence on the language(s) spoken by that population. In the account above I have focussed on the least desirable scenario. 27 Yet genetics research is increasingly likely to demand answers to difficult questions. cultural priorities) can be put right through social policies. ‘races’. It would be different indeed to suggest. access to books. Vol. on the culturally transmitted linguistic code.58-73 variety viewed as most ‘ignorant’ could become the one considered most correct and desirable. in heavily affected populations. Tone languages use patterns of pitch change to differentiate meanings.Genomics. Vol. 25 language ability is an invisible and contingent trait: it is not known unless it is measured. and it is defined according to particular social values. and one line of recent research indicates the scope for challenging the notion of uniformity without an associated social stigma. To put it crudely. than others. it is socially unacceptable—and for good reason—to look at someone’s appearance and infer thereby that they will be less intelligent or a less able language user than someone else. 24 Socially induced differences (education provision. 26 It is anathema to modern western society that anything construed as desirable should be entirely unattainable. It is clearly socially problematic to suggest that one speaker group is in any way fundamentally disadvantaged for language relative to another. that members of a particular group had encoded in their genes a different type of language faculty. capability for language. pp. in a way that parallels the claims for systematic differences in IQ levels.4. most undesirably of all. Society and Policy. The uniformitarian perspective on language arose in response to racialist attitudes. That is. However. classes or. whereby some genetically-determined variation creates ‘inequality’. in some sense. where some populations are viewed as better at language. Such traits are particularly socially sensitive because of the ease with which their presence can be inappropriately inferred by association with a proxy. for instance. and that different races could be located at different points on a directional evolutionary continuum. with an impact. gender or disability. visible trait such as skin colour.gspjournal. No. whereby it was presumed that the ‘noble savage’ possessed a lesser (or occasionally greater) capacity for language than the European. not all differences entail inequality.” 30 They hypothesise that the genetic effects on brain structure determine how tone is handled during the process of language acquisition. age. Research by Dediu and Ladd 28 suggests that a particular pattern of genetic variation (derived haplogroups of two genes) explains the distribution of tone languages around the world. whether associated with random individuals. Society and Policy 2008.4. As with intelligence. www.

No. so long as this is only because there is no scope for it to apply (eg. that is. 35 6 Evidence for variation What sort of variation in language knowledge or performance would directly challenge the claim that we have a genetically-endowed language faculty? Although. www. pp. as we shall see in section 8. Vol. so evidence challenging the extent of that uniformity (see section 6) potentially impacts on our understanding of what evolved and how. Another is that the language faculty. and that possessing it gave the ancestral sub-population a distinct survival advantage over contemporaries without it. A third is that the genetic basis of the language faculty is highly conserved. prejudice may follow.gspjournal. and where systematic difference is once found. Society and Policy. one had found evidence that the theory of Universal Grammar was invalid.4. while less than crucial for survival on its own.com 65 . is tied into other basic human functions without which an individual could not survive and reproduce.1. previously identified as central to Universal Grammar. therefore. of the claim for a language faculty. It need only be noted here that such evolutionary accounts are predicated on the assumption of uniformity today. Newmeyer 36 promotes the weaker version of UG theory that the Minimalist Program makes possible. For the present. Vol. there is place for examining the relative roles of genes and environment in the variation found across a wide range of aspects of language knowledge and performance. that agenda arises separately. because the language does not use sufficiently _____________ Genomics. Before Subjacency and other similar principles were ‘down-graded’ it was reasonable to argue that if one could find a language without Subjacency. and a range of consequential features. As we saw in section 3. 34 It is for others to weigh the plausibility of these and other options. this knowledge relates to two core features of language.000 years ago. Society and Policy 2008. They are careful to note that “there is no evidence that tone itself confers any advantage or disadvantage on speakers.1 (2008) ISSN: 1746-5354 © ESRC Genomics Network. and how it is that humans today still all have it. remarkably resilient to mutation. including Subjacency. However. we must not forget that society often interprets variation judgmentally. the question is whether variation can be adduced in relation to the language knowledge that the innateness accounts have construed as immutable. It is unproblematic to find languages without Subjacency. One is that selection pressures ensure the failure of anyone without the language faculty to survive and reproduce. No.4. In order to avoid the complications of polygenesis.” 31 so this particular effect should be socially neutral. structure dependence and recursivity. there are at least three options. The most plausible answer to the first part of the question is that it arose in the small sub-population of humans whose descendents we all are.Genomics. 33 As to explaining its uniformly reliable persistence. However. 32 we assume the language faculty arose once only. some time before modern man dispersed out of Africa around 100. and somewhat independently.58-73 features. 5 Explanations of uniformity Chomsky’s claim that all humans possess the same fundamental language knowledge draws us inexorably to the question of when and how that knowledge arose.

1. _____________ Genomics. iv) Evidence of languages failing reliably to demonstrate structure dependence. in the sense that sentences which would be judged ungrammatical in English are judged grammatical in these languages. Wray 38 provides (incidentally) a means of explaining away any examples that appear at odds with structure dependence. a language spoken in the Brazilian Amazon. by proposing that communication is not always reliant on rulebound forms. The weak Universal Grammar hypothesis challenges its opponents to offer a more compelling kind of evidence than simply the absence of Subjacency in languages without multiple embedding. to my knowledge. Regarding (i). 37 Meanwhile.Genomics. ii) Evidence of languages failing to apply recursion. Vol. Formulaic expressions can become and remain irregular by being processed as single lexical entries. eg: i) Evidence of the grammatical acceptability of Subjacency violations in languages that do have adequate levels of embedding. for instance. it is vital for the theory that when the language develops the additional clausal complexity that provides the forum for Subjacency to apply. Society and Policy 2008. Everett 40 has claimed that Pirahã. any instantiation of (iv). Swedish and Icelandic in which systematic violations of Subjacency are possible.com 66 . No. that it would be difficult to describe a new language without doggedly pursuing the expectation of it. There is not. though it must be borne in mind that the assumption of structure dependence is so basic a notion to us. the relevant semantic dependencies are not expressed at all. even if it was not there. But Everett proposes that Pirahã does express the meanings that other languages achieve through embedding.58-73 complex embedding). Vol. iii) Evidence that individuals given examples of complex sentences cannot reliably understand them. The other three proposed types of evidence are apparently attested. In the weaker version of the Universal Grammar hypothesis. became more common. 42 she sees subordination as a feature of writing rather than speech. and this constitutes one part of his claim that Pirahã stands outside the scope of predicted ‘possible’ languages. the absence of embedding is inconsequential if. on account of having no written tradition. Society and Policy.” 39 In relation to (ii). Culicover notes that “there are languages such as Italian. No. Mithun suggests that “[l]anguages and speakers vary considerably in the exploitation of this syntactic device” 41 and. Less extreme claims have been made regarding other languages. www.gspjournal.4. pp. 43 Kalmár 44 reports a marked increase in grammatical subordination in Inuktitut after decontextualised writing. even when expressing appropriate semantic dependencies. and translation from English. does not display recursion—it has no embedding. then it will apply. 45 His experimental stimuli were sentences like (15).4. There is evidence that it does not even hold uniformly for English. However. Evidence of variation in people’s capacity to understand complex embedded sentences (iii) has been offered by Chipere.1 (2008) ISSN: 1746-5354 © ESRC Genomics Network. like Ong.

is required to master the niceties of specific varieties elevated as ‘correct’. www. using “syntactic formulae. locked into writing. It has a long history of literary development and of standardisation. Since the non-native speaker graduates actually gave the most accurate responses to some questions.1 (2008) ISSN: 1746-5354 © ESRC Genomics Network. No. Society and Policy 2008.58-73 for which he solicited both direct repetitions and answers to comprehension questions (eg. Chipere suggests that explicit instruction in the grammar of English (of which the non-native graduates would have experienced most and the non-graduate native speakers least) is of assistance in understanding complex sentences. Vol. He found non-graduate native speakers less able than native and non-native speaker graduates to take into account the various parts of the structure when responding to comprehension questions.com 67 . Grace 48 outlines dangers inherent in a culture-centric approach to language description. Vol.Genomics. He also found that individuals unable to remember or understand the stimuli responded well to training. though then extrapolated back as an educated spoken code. explaining his results by means of Ericsson & Kintsch’s proposal that “in skilled activities. should reflect all and only natural patterns. 15) The doctor knows that the fact that taking good care of himself is essential surprises Tom. is in many respects an artificial language. so that additional training. Society and Policy. No. it is not unreasonable to examine only a small number of languages in order to identify the features of that capacity. the language most often drawn upon for modern linguistic analysis. through education. However. While it remains ‘natural’ in the sense that native speakers acquire it.1. English.gspjournal.4. without which it is more natural to interpret them by analogy. … impose[d] top-down on the input”. 7 Causes and effects of variation 7. lest one attribute universality to some feature that is a secondary accretion peculiar to the sampled languages. Since the features of this ‘correctness’ have accreted over time—mostly as expressions of preferences imposed by intellectual adults 49 and often emulating patterns in Latin and Greek—there is no reason why the standard forms of English. 47 Possible implications of Chipere’s proposal are considered in section 8. it is obviously necessary to ensure that there is no bias in the sample. all the natural product of a species-wide language capacity.” 46 Chipere suggests that training in how to understand complex sentences supports the development of a rule-based strategy for unpacking them. The kinds of sentences at the heart of Chomskian accounts of complex grammar might therefore be ‘unnatural’. What does the doctor know? and What surprises Tom?). for as long as these beliefs are only beliefs. _____________ Genomics. the version they acquire is frequently treated as culturally inadequate.1 Cultural enhancements of language If one believes that all languages are essentially equal in complexity. acquired memory skills allow [the] products [of interim operations] to be stored in long-term memory and kept directly accessible by means of retrieval cues in short-term memory.4. pp.

might not some humans emerge. were we to become satisfied that a feature of language such as recursion was not equally represented in the innate knowledge of all individuals. One outcome might be a greater use of embedding for encoding complex meaning relationships in a retrievable way. whether it were a trait in random individuals across all populations. Vol.Genomics. Society and Policy 2008. many or all _____________ Genomics.4. Wray & Grace 50 offer a model of how cultural demands.com 68 . or one passed down in family lines. Our earliest modern ancestors. 8. or on account of some difference in how they approach information processing and storage.1. But the accepted view now is that our capacity for language is determined by many genes.0 Less than black and white A few years ago people talked simplistically of a ‘language gene’. so much as to indicate that we need to explain why it could not have been. Let us suppose that a dedicated language faculty did arise in our species some time around or after 200. 7. Society and Policy. augment a less ambitious default version of language structure in the direction of greater explicitness and regularity. let us imagine. who by virtue of slightly different innate language knowledge. or a particular coherent population—we are back on socially sensitive ground. unless there was no other way to explain the origins of its vestiges in the species. it could even come to characterise one gender more than the other. when it is not in use. Let us further suppose that they understood structural relations in multiply embedded sentences after the movement of constituents—even though their spoken language(s) never provided a context in which to exercise that knowledge. pp. languages have not been under the cultural pressure that augments their form in these directions. over the many millennia during which—if Wray & Grace are right—embedding was barely in use. no one would notice. and when no disadvantage ensues from its absence. In theory. Wray & Grace propose that for most of human evolution. No.4. understood the principles of structure dependence and recursion.1 (2008) ISSN: 1746-5354 © ESRC Genomics Network.58-73 In an application of Grace’s ideas to the question of language evolution. particularly the need to talk to ‘outsiders’. 51 Why.gspjournal. Even so. we should probably not wish to hypothesise the undoing of something originally ubiquitous at all. under what circumstances would that uniformity remain? Two hundred thousand years is a very long time for a trait to be maintained with 100% reliability across the human population. as explored in the final section. In actual fact. and it raises interesting issues for consideration. find embedded structures more difficult to compute? At the time. the idea that we have innate linguistic knowledge the detail of which has diverged in the course of evolution is too important to set aside. and that made it easy to conceptualise all humans as equally linguistically endowed. My aim is not particularly to suggest that the universality of an original language faculty actually has been undermined by silent genetic variation.000 years ago.2 Genetic variation over time The evolutionary origin of language also offers another potential explanation for variation between languages at the fundamental level. Vol. Although this provides a uniform starting point for our species. No. www.

57 and through twin studies.gspjournal. Whether defining language as a ‘complex trait’ obviates the possibility that there lies at their heart some special. 58. they too have become more complex. variation between individuals in relation to what we term ‘language aptitude’ or ‘flair for language’ does exist and may not be easily explained in terms of environment alone. Nettle additionally proposes that. For example. it is now increasingly recognised that genes and environment interact. 52 Nettle 53 tentatively suggests another kind of gene-environment interaction in relation to Dediu and Ladd’s findings for tone languages. bootstrapping would be entirely feasible. we would be able to tell. but effort would be entailed if one were to match the natural abilities of those with the innate disposition.4.59 Twin studies can help separate _____________ Genomics. as the result of genetic variation.com 69 . Society and Policy 2008. in epigenetics the expression of the gene is determined by an environmental trigger. As for perceptions of the role of the environment. Irrespective of the plausibility of this particular scenario. if it did exist. described earlier. until cultural practices arose that prized the ability to encode and decode complex language. but in this paper I have focussed on two different questions—whether the faculty. Vol. pp. Where they propose that a particular genetic expression may have influenced the properties of a pattern in the languages spoken by the affected people. Vol. if it did. versus only with.1. Although it remains likely that much of the variation in language and languages is culturally-determined and maintained. and I have considered whether our evolutionary development could have supported a bifurcation (or more) in people’s innate knowledge about language. www. it could mean that what one person did through innate knowledge. For this reason there is an urgent need for research into the genetic basis for the many aspects of variation in language knowledge and aptitude—as now being undertaken for Specific Language Impairment. 54 The more complex the genetic and environmental factors determining language are seen to be. No. Most research discusses whether or not the phenomenon of language can be explained without recourse to a universal language faculty. invariant faculty dedicated to language is a topic of continuing debate.Genomics. Since the skill was learnable. and whether. the language features could have led to positive selection for that gene expression in subsequent generations.1 (2008) ISSN: 1746-5354 © ESRC Genomics Network. the harder it is to be sure on what basis we can safely judge a feature of language to be truly invariant across all normal humans. No. Chipere’s 55 work offers one candidate type of knowledge—the processing of complex embedded structures using long term memory. 56 Inherited predispositions to handle complex embedded structures without. training would constitute a very subtle distinction of no consequence. in return. could have variant forms. Were both true. I have explored the possibility that our cultural engagement with language influences our linguistic knowledge at the most fundamental level. Specifically.4. while the associated educational system was less than vigilant about teaching that ability to those not immediately adept. Society and Policy.58-73 of which might exist in variant forms. Such circumstances could play a role in creating and sustaining differences in social and material attainment. another could learn to do.

6 Chomskian models do not exclude a role for general cognitive influences. p. we would rather believe were fundamentally invariant. Aspects of the Theory of Syntax. Eugène Mollet and Mike Wallace. See for instance. distractions. New Haven. It is claims like “we find the same basic structural properties in every human language”. The tendency for an idea to become commonly accepted without adequate evidence is exemplified by Pullum and Scholz in relation to another common claim in linguistics. and two anonymous referees.1. but do view them as complementing the dedicated language faculty. 3 “Linguistic theory is concerned primarily with an ideal speaker-listener. Moore.R. 2006. Acknowledgements The Cardiff symposium ‘What is special about the gene?’ provided the impetus for developing many of the ideas in this paper. accessed 27. Establishing the role of genes in determining our language abilities is only one part of the challenge.Genomics. A mature society needs a means of dealing with the discovery of genetically-based differences in capabilities that. A. in a completely homogeneous speech-community.199 that are increasingly being challenged (see later). Doctor Dolittle’s Delusion. Constructions that are attested in usage but are outlawed by intuition include the one underlying What's the one episode that you wrote.629 clauses that were structured appropriately to permit gapping. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 2007.01. that when you saw it. to all of whom I express my thanks. Society and Policy 2008.com 70 1 .1 (2008) ISSN: 1746-5354 © ESRC Genomics Network. chapter 1. Vol. George Grace. A striking example of a structure that Generative grammars predict but which is very rarely attested is gapping.E. 104 (26): 10755-10756. eg. however.58-73 out the genetic contribution to variation from that partly or entirely due to environment. The paper has benefited from helpful comments and advice from Alison Sealey. Constructions at Work. Construction Grammar. on strongly defensible cultural grounds.uk 2 For some discussion. Chomsky.com/sfw/issue234/interview.129) but one that is very rarely found in corpus data. No. N.htlm.7%) that actually had it. p. however.3. Vol. Cambridge. which Tao & Meyer (2006) describe as “one of the most extensively studied syntactic constructions in English” (p.ac. UK wraya@cf.scifi. writer of Roswell. 5 eg. 4 Examples of constraints that do not seem to translate into use include the one that outlaws *The asleep girl as a re-expression of The girl is asleep (compare The expensive car as a re-expression of The car is expensive). Nettle. and errors (random or characteristic) in applying his knowledge of the language in actual performance”. S. Evidence suggests. The other is learning to cope with all of the possible outcomes of such research.08). Language and genes: a new perspective on the origins of cultural diversity. that not only postnatal but also perinatal environmental factors play a role in how language develops. and from discussions with Tess Fitzpatrick. No. MA: MIT Press.4. Goldberg.4. In the ICE-GB corpus (1 million words) they found 17. 7 The assumption of uniformity in humans leads to assumptions about uniformity in languages. see D. I ate fish. Society and Policy. www. Oxford: Oxford University Press. www. that _____________ Genomics. Naomi Wray. Communication and Philosophy.gspjournal. Cardiff University. CT: Yale University Press. but only 120 (0. I am grateful to Stephen Pattison and Andrew Edgar for their invitation to participate. 2004. School of English. shifts of attention or interest. who knows the language perfectly and is unaffected by such grammatically irrelevant conditions as memory limitations. 1965. pp. it just blew you away? (interview with Ronald D. Anderson. 60 a fact that complicates assumptions about genetically identical input being expressed identically in different individuals even in the early years of life. Centre for Language and Communication Research. Bill rice and Harry roast beef.

2008. Black people ‘less intelligent’. 19 However. Mind Design and Minimal Syntax.4. arguing that they are predicated on invalid assumptions about the nature of the input presented to children and the bases on which it could result in the kind of output they produce. for example. 29 Dediu and Ladd. 15 (2): 121-148.R. 15 N. 298. MA. Nature Reviews Neuroscience 2005. 2008. Hinzen. 11 eg. Language deficits in the KE family seem to include articulatory problems and difficulty applying the agreement rules on verbs and nouns. K. Possible and probable languages. 16 J.ece 26 G. There are other hypotheses too.10945. See a later note for comments on abnormal language.M.33ff. p. 10 Anderson. Cambridge. Polygenesis has a different meaning in genetics. London: Fontana/Collins. 33 Estimates tend to assume the emergence of modern man. note 21. Oxford University Press. who has it. I. 30 Dediu and Ladd. cit.ac. op. New horizons in the study of language and mind. Hurford. 104 (26). The development of language skills in bonobo and chimpanzee – I: comprehension. note 28. www. Scholz. p. http://www. 32 I use the term polygenesis as linguists do. op. 19 (1-2): 9-50. note 28. 22. http://ling. Oxford. accessed 28. chapter 3. Fitch. to refer to the independent emergence of language more than once in the human species.000 years ago. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 2006. Newmeyer. a social construct). The origins of meaning. Vol. Hauser. L. Race and three models of human origin. p. Pepperberg.1999. 11-12. Society and Policy. chapter 5. The logic of non-standard English. Taking a different approach to the challenge. No. 14 As part of his energetic argument against the notion of a genetically-determined language faculty. 1976. a single emergence event. often assumed to entail both the cognitive capability for language processing and the first linguistic code. Reflections on Language. 2000. 2007.08. cit. cit.S. The Alex Studies. 10944-10949. on Chromosome 7.C. p. They have been linked to a single base substitution in FOXP2.Genomics. note 7. G. F.01. cit.1 (2008) ISSN: 1746-5354 © ESRC Genomics Network. cit. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 2007.ed. 10946. 22 Hinzen. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. op.196. op. APSM and Microcephalin. 2005. G.58-73 languages have infinite expressional capacity. The Simian tongue: the Long Debate about Animal Language. note 28. 24 The focus here is on the ‘normal’ population (though normality is. Vol. from which all subsequent languages have developed (though there is certainly scope to account for these events separately). Radick. W. 8 eg. in Africa. Brakke and E. 17 F. FOXP2 and the neuroanatomy of speech and language. 10946. cit. 21 W. 6: 131-137. Jackson. Harvard University Press. white and Asian people: Times Online. op. It contrasts with monogenesis. cit. Lieberman and F.co. and how did it evolve? Science 2002. cit. scientist claims. Oxford: Oxford University Press.4. No. note 7 for reasons why this capacity for infinite embedding has been generally overstated. 27 The concept of ‘race’ is generally recognised to be a social construct that does not map effectively onto the biological evidence. Linguistic Review 2002. including a much later date coinciding with _____________ Genomics.4 13 Chomsky. Vargha-Khadem et al. 25 See. Ladd.000 to 150. See. The faculty of language: what is it.1. 2005) counters each of Chomsky’s key claims in turn. Linguistic tone is related to the population frequency of the adaptive haplogroups of two brain size genes. pp. 1569-1579. American Anthropologist 1995. Society and Policy 2008. Chomsky. which is not intended here. identify the evidential requirements for arguing for or against innate knowledge.E. London: Continuum. R.gspjournal. Georgetown Monographs on Languages and Linguistics 1969. note 12. Savage-Rumbaugh. Chomsky and W.198. however. 23 eg.L. p. 28 D. N. Pullum and B. for instance. Chomsky. In J. p. op.com 71 . 200.pdf. Labov. 97 (2): 231-242.T.uk/~gpullum/bcscholz/Infinitude.timesonline. Geoffrey Sampson (The ‘Language Instinct’ Debate. op. 20 Newmeyer. of course. 12 N.uk/tol/news/uk/article2677098. Alatis ed. with language. 1-44. 18 M. the recent furore over claims by James Watson of differences in intelligence between black. 31 Dediu and Ladd. Scholz. 22/11/02. note 17. op. p. 9 eg. 2007. Empirical assessment of stimulus poverty arguments. p. Dediu and D. Language and Communication 1995. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. see Pullum and Scholz 2008. Language and the infinitude claim. Pullum & B.

however. Vol. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 543–578. etc.4. F. How to avoid subordination. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 1985. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 2005. _____________ Genomics. No. M. note 17. Oxford: Oxford University Press. is explored at length in Wray op. 51 It is. Literacy. pp. Barnby and A. Wijnen. or planning actions. Boas. note 28. Are there really no primitive languages? In D. 359-375. cave art). 45 N. Mithun. cit. Monaco. last accessed 28. 493–523. N.01.) The Transition to Language. Wright and N. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.180. production processing. 211–245. Koster and F. Grace Collateral damage from linguistics? 3: The role of culture-centrism. 509 42 W. www. 1982. planning. Olson. Understanding complex sentences.4. Ericsson and W. 2002. auditory processing. Journal of American Folk-Lore 1901. Available at http://www. naming. memory. Methuen. As with the present account. and all linguists accept that the language package as a whole (including speech. see discussion in A. 41 M. Long term memory. In A.edu/~grace/elniv23. Everett. social interaction. 39 P. 165-174. Current Anthropology 2005. 4 (23) http://www2. Wray (ed. Vol. 44 I. Grace. op. 2007. Proceedings of the Groningen Assembly on Language Acquisition.R.J.F. Ethnolinguistic Notes 2002. cit. and they are generally attributed to impairments in one or more component of the complex package that supports the hypothesised language faculty (eg. and opportunities for both speaker rehearsal and multiple hearings.1. p. of course. 54 This process is known as the Baldwin effect. cit. London. religious rituals. Oral literature is characterised by repetition. offer another. op.1 (2008) ISSN: 1746-5354 © ESRC Genomics Network. and polygenesis naturally weakens the claim for uniformity across all languages. 102 (30): 10604–10609. p.pdf. possible that the trait. For an overview. eds. 46 K. 48 G. p. cit. Speech and language disorders. note 11. such as oral epics. Orality and Literacy: The Technologizing of the Word. Newmeyer. 148–166. In Proceedings of the Tenth Annual Meeting of the Berkeley Linguistics Society 1984. Groningen Assembly on Language Acquisition (GALA 1995). 38 A. op.ling. 2002. Center for Language and Cognition. was vital for something else. Wray and G. 1996. 4: 621-646.html. Fraga et al. The Mind of Primitive Man. Wray. not all linguists by any means believe that there is a ‘language faculty’ as such at all. Groningen.211. Epigenetic differences arise during the lifetime of monozygotic twins. accessed 28.com 72 . Psychological Review 102. something that could logically extend to the present scenario too. This argument. Wray. 53 Fraga.) has entailed the presumably independently motivated evolution of many different abilities. entails that the trait is not part of a dedicated language faculty. Formulaic Language and the Lexicon. Chipere. Society and Policy.58-73 the first cultural evidence of language (eg. assigning thematic roles to participants in clauses. Adaptive Learning and Concrete Minimalism. note 45. cit. Uniformitarian assumptions and language evolution research. compared with children. 36 eg. Hildyard eds. a creative mix of familiar formulae and new material. But language emergence after the dispersal from Africa obviates a monogenetic origin for language. Ong. 1-11. Basingstoke: Palgrave. may also display structural complexity. 37 Compare Boas’ advice to the anthropologist. Society and Policy 2008.Genomics. 46. forthcoming. 2003.08 40 D. No.hawaii. to “divest himself entirely of opinions and emotions based on the peculiar social environment into which he is born”. see G. 1995. 34 Vargha-Khadem et al. Culicover. 47 Chipere. though not used for language. 43 Some culturally developed types of spoken language. such as organising thought. cit. In C. reading). 52 eg. remembering. Kintsch. Torrance and A. 56 Dediu and Ladd.W. 35 Of course. 137.08. 55 Chipere.edu/~culicove/Publications/GALA. Language and Learning. 117. 57 Abnormalities in language can take many forms. op.A. they propose that the variation would not be sufficient to disadvantage an individual. The consequences of talking to strangers: Evolutionary corollaries of socio-cultural influences on linguistic form.01. In A.ohio-state.gspjournal. note 45. 2. op. cit. 14 (52). note 38. 49 The difference between how adults approach the identification of language patterns. Formulaic Language: Pushing the Boundaries. Also F. Cultural constraints on grammar and cognition in Pirahã. Lingua 2007. note 52. op. Their account explores the effect on languages of many individuals in a population exhibiting a particular trait. Kalmár.W. p. 50 A.

So far there has been no convincing evidence of impairment to just a ‘language faculty’ in the narrow sense defined in this paper. Vol. eds. Society and Policy.Genomics. though it is far from clear what one should look for in identifying an affected person. The heritability of language: a review and meta-analysis of twin. 333-384.1.com 73 .58-73 Hastie. 59 My own current project (April 2007.4. is applying a wide range of language profiling techniques to essays written by identical and non-identical twins in a state-wide school examination. No.1 (2008) ISSN: 1746-5354 © ESRC Genomics Network. pp. adoption. prenatal and postnatal factors. 469-487. Society and Policy 2008. Stromswold. Stromswold.4. Vol. Why aren’t identical twins linguistically identical? Genetic. funded by the UK Arts and Humanities Research Council and in collaboration with the Twin Study at the Queensland Institute of Medical Research. and linkage studies. Cognition 2006. 58 For a comprehensive review of published studies. pp. Language 2001. _____________ Genomics.Sept 2008). 60 K. 647-723. 101. 77. www.gspjournal. see K. No. 4. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Genes and Common Diseases: Genetics in Modern Medicine.

Other interests include evolutionary theory in anthropology. the role of animals in human society. art and architecture. and environmental perception and skilled practice. He is editor of the journal Health Care Analysis. He is joint co-ordinator with Andrew Edgar of the interdisciplinary humanities project. pp. Vol.ac.ingold@abdn. Trained in both cell biology and philosophy.uk Lenny Moss is Associate Professor of Philosophy at the University of Exeter. Ethics. the philosophical elucidation of a ‘phenotype-first’ biology and its implications for a general philosophy of nature guided by the idea of ‘natural detachment’ as an immanent teleology. Society and Policy. was published in 2007.ac. He has carried out ethnographic fieldwork among Saami and Finnish people in Lapland.ac. No.ac. edgar@Cardiff. Lenny. d. his current research interests include: a renewal of the enterprise of philosophical anthropology based upon a new synthesis and dialectical interpenetration of philosophy and the empirical sciences.Moss@exeter. His 2003 book What Genes Can’t Do (MIT) has just been published in Japanese. biology and history.pattison. He researches the literature and science relation in the Victorian period and his monograph Colonies. He is currently writing and teaching on the comparative anthropology of the line. s. human ecology. Her particular interests are the psychological and social determiners of formulaic language use and the evolution of language. UK.4 No.ac. Cults and Evolution: Literature.uk Alison Wray is a Research Professor in Language and Communication at Cardiff University. bivinsre@Cardiff.amigoni@keele. Vol.ac. and on the interface between anthropology. on both of which topics she has _____________ Genomics. and Practice in the Department of Theology and Religion at the University of Birmingham. 'The Meanings of Genetics'.uk Stephen Pattison is Professor of Religion. a philosophical reconstruction of the history of philosophy from the perspective of an ‘expressivist’ anthropology.74-75 Author Biographies David Amigoni is Professor of Victorian Literature at Keele University.uk Andrew Edgar is Senior Lecturer in Philosophy in the School of English Communications and Philosophy at Cardiff University.1.gspjournal. language and tool use. His latest book.uk Tim Ingold is Professor of Social Anthropology at the University of Aberdeen. and has written extensively on comparative questions of environment. Society and Policy 2007.1@bham. archaeology.4.uk Roberta Bivins is Associate Professor in the History of Medicine at the University of Warwick. Science and Culture in Nineteenth-Century Writing was published by Cambridge University Press in 2007.com 74 .1 (2007) ISSN: 1746-5354 © ESRC Genomics Network. technology and social organisation in the circumpolar North.Genomics. tim. where he is also Director of the Research Institute for the Humanities. She is currently researching the impact of postcolonial immigration on medical research and healthcare delivery in the US and the UK. www. His research has been in twentieth century German philosophy and in the philosophy of medicine. Lines: A Brief History (Routledge). Other work has examined the cross-cultural transmission of medical expertise.

4 No. as an index of linguistic knowledge and of learning and processing strategies.4. Society and Policy.1 (2007) ISSN: 1746-5354 © ESRC Genomics Network. pp. Vol.ac. Society and Policy 2007. wraya@Cardiff.74-75 published widely. Vol. www.Genomics.gspjournal.1. Her present empirical projects focus on new approaches to profiling variation in language performance.uk _____________ Genomics. No.com 75 .

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