Bioethics Blogs

Maurizio Meloni’s “Political Biology: Science and Social Values in Human Heredity from Eugenics to Epigenetics” by Alan Goodman

Political Biology: Science and Social Values in Human Heredity from Eugenics to Epigenetics

Maurizio Meloni

Palgrave MacMilllan, 2016, 284 pages


In Political Biology, Maurizio Meloni, one of our most insightful social theorists of contemporary biology, guides us through heredity from the second half of the nineteenth century, through the twentieth “century of the gene” (Keller, 2000) and into the twenty-first century and the epigenetic present. Meloni expertly maps the consolidation of the paradigm of “hard heredity” that dominates most of the twentieth century. The book invites us to explore the surprising postgenomic world: that is, the world of science that begins roughly after the completion of the Human Genome Project, a period marked by the everyday sequencing of genomes and, of most significance, the opening up of the genome and an increasing appreciation of the complexities by which genetic sequences relate to phenotypes.

Meloni, Senior Research Fellow in the Department of Sociological Studies at the University of Sheffield (UK), examines, on one level, how biological heredity “became modern” when the notion of the gene as controlling fundamental biological processes cemented into the dominant paradigm of biology. On a second level, Meloni investigates the implications of the rise, transformations, and potential decline of hard heredity for social life and political thought. He asks “What sorts of citizenship, personhood, politics and governmentality” are to be found with hard and soft heredity? (ix). What are the connections between views of heredity (and degrees of determinism) and political systems? And on a third level, Meloni highlights the epistemological split between the natural sciences and the social sciences that also became institutionalized during the twentieth century.

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