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Epigenetic human: Maternal responsibility in making 'good' humans

Ilke Turkmendag Brunsnes

2 November 2016

Ilke Turkmendag Brunsnes presented a paper at the 4S/EASST Annual Conference in Barcelona

What does it mean to be human in the 21st Century?

Ilke Turkmendag Brunsnes presented 'Epigenetic human: Maternal responsibility in making 'good' humans' at the 2016 Society for Social Studies of Science (4S) and European Association for the Study of Science and Technology (EASST) conference in Barcelona.

Epigenetic human

The paper examines how the new developments in the landscape of epigenetics studies of maternal effects changes the notions of being a human.

Epigenetics and maternal behaviour

Epigenetics is a newly emerging field, which explains the ways in which medical, nutritional and behavioural experiences influence the expression of our genes and how these changes are transmitted to subsequent generations. The impact of maternal behaviour on their offspring's early development and later health has become a major research area in epigenetics over the last two decades and the findings of this work are already entering the wider culture and shaping public debate. New research in the emerging field of epigenetics is suggesting a link between maternal behaviour during pregnancy and after birth, and the subsequent well-being of their children in both early and adult life.

Representation in the public sphere

Although these molecular mechanisms are poorly understood, preventive prescriptions about reproductive health, pregnancy, early development and parenting have started proliferating in media, dedicated websites and public health policy briefing reports. There is a serious risk that exaggerated and oversimplified messages about maternal behaviour may increase surveillance and regulation of pregnancy and stigmatise mothers. This paper examines how epigenetics studies of maternal effects are represented in the public sphere and how responsibilities of mothers for the health of their children and future generations are understood and portrayed. It will analyse these emerging discourses in scientific reports, news and social media.

The field of epigenetics is part of this comprehensive transformation that increasingly individualizes and privatizes the responsibility for social risks (Beck 1992), and an example of a wider discourse of geneticisation, molecularisation and biologisation of being a human.

For further details please see 4S / EASST Conference Barcelona 2016

Ilke Turkmendag Brunsnes is Lecturer in Law Innovation and Society at Newcastle University and Co-Investigator of Epigenetics and Stress Network.

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