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Maternal Responsibility in the Postgenomic Era

Ilke Turkmendag Brunsnes

1 November 2016

Ilke Turkmendag Brunsnes was recently invited by the Centre for Research on Culture and Gender at Ghent University in Belgium to give a public lecture. The talk considered how maternal responsibility was constituted in epigenetics.


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.

Maternal behaviour

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.

Epigenetics and individualising personal responsibility

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

For further details of this talk please see Centre for Research on Culture and Gender

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

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