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Chapter 14

SOC 7108 Chapter 14: SOC 7108 - Chapter 14

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SOC 7108
Loes Knaapen

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SOC 7108
Since 1990, geneticization has become a watchword concerned with the increasing application
of genetic medicine, “ization” words more generally as it belongs to a style of thinking within the social
sciences that refers to a wide-range of processes and consequences. They are bread and butter of
sociology as they stimulate imagination and disrupt what is considered as natural as the more shocking
the change, the more we take notice.
Geneticization has shock value as it anticipates the potentially negative political consequences
of determinism and reductionism. It can perhaps be perceived as a symptom as to how the
social sciences think of a biological science and how their thinking styles have change.
They began questioning whether or not they are actual properties of genetic knowledge or
forces of social control. They began to question this through the hyperbole of its theoretical
claims with the concerns of socio-technological change creating two complimentary responses:
1. Re-articulate the transformational agenda of the new genetics through a more nuanced
perception of power
2. Empirical agenda of carefully exposing the contingency of geneticization.
What is important here is the theme of constructivism that seeks to analyze biomedical change in
terms of its processes and consequences.
The Geneticization Thesis
This concept entered circulation through an individual known as Lippman, a radical
epidemiologist and activist dedicated towards women health. After three publications, she viewed
geneticization as an on-going process by which differences between persons are reduced to their
DNA codes with most disorders and behaviors and variations defined in part as through genetic
origin (page 2). It has a wide range of processes and effects
Expansion of health and illness through genetic technology
Differentiation of individuals on the basis of their genetic variations
Construction of biological phenomena through the means of labelling as genetic rather than
social, structural or means of the environment.
Political economy of disease prediction and prevention
Socio-cultural expectations that reinforce the use of these technologies
The new alliance between feminism and constructivism during the 1980s provided the ability to
challenge modern narratives of technological process and objectivism within science. A critique was that
science creates an essence that naturalize social categories with geneticization being an extension of
1. Genetic reductionism e a scientific methodology that explains biological traits in terms of
specific gene functions
2. Genetic determinism e gene function has powerful causal properties that exclude
environmental influences for traits such as disease and behaviour
3. Genetic essentialism e genes are immutable attributes that impute the identity and function of
human life
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Thus, many tend to focus on one of these three factors as many indicate that reinstating ideas
that traits are genetically determined may result in justification for discrimination and
Genetic Essentialism: reduces the self to a molecular entity making individuals everything of the
human being within their genes.
Genetic technologies have the ability to transform human understanding as the gene is a symbol
of personhood, identity and social relations.
In other words, many indicate that genetics is the ideology that explains everything while others
indicate it is cultural narrative passing through stages of historical development.
Lippman focuses on medicalization *
It shares a resemblance to geneticization as medicalization is also a foundation of sociological
thinking towards biological science. It is a staple concept in adjudicating the relationship between
science and society. Others say that it describes the process of development and change regarding the
change in Western medicine within the context of the modernization thesis. The origins of the concept
point to what is known as an ethos of anti-medicine, concerned with how it has developed without a
concern for the people it serves, similarly to the fact that new genetic technology is also repressive.
They trace the origins of medicalization as a means of the political turmoil that happened in
Europe within the late 1960s along with the failure of Marxism after student revolutions in
1968. One line of the argument focused on the political economy of health and the growing
skepticism of power, profit and politics within the healthcare system.
Another was based from the Chicago School who comprehended professional dominance as
power to define deviance forming part of a general cultural pattern of blaming the victim.
Freidson (social construction of professional knowledge) argued that medicine creates its own
privileged universe of knowledge serving interest of those on the inside objectifying those
whom the knowledge is used on. It is an institution of social control that is designed to
extend medical jurisdiction and the medicalization of deviance stigmatizes those who are
vulnerable and powerless.
The idea that medicalization is caused by a wider social process is based on the cultural critique of
medicine known as the medicalization of life a full attack on modern society being colonized by three
levels of iatrogenesis (illness that is a by-product of medical treatment at the social, clinical and
structural level. His main idea is that the processes of over-industrialization and bureaucratization of
health care alienate the individual from their own body and make them dependent on the medical
professional while others say it is a consequence of social power.
Medicalization reproduces this class structure in a capitalist society by serving the interests of
the groups that have the most power creating a system of health care around commodity
A social constructivist framework however shows that medicalization is more heterogenous of
not only being able to control deviance but allowing various social movements and interest
groups to advocate for new conditions.
Feminists, have also taken up the medicalization thesis to show how patriarchal institutions
have used definitions of illness and disease to portray the inequality of women such as medical
control as a result of childbirth becoming alienated as medical interventions seem to deny
women the ability to have a healthy baby naturally.
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