Imprinting and Optimizing: Impressionable Bodies and the Postgenomic Government of Plasticity

Authors: Maurizio Meloni*,
Topics: Anthropocene, Social Theory
Keywords: postgenomics, plasticity, epigenetics
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/11/2018
Start / End Time: 3:20 PM / 5:00 PM
Room: Grand Chenier, Sheraton, 5th Floor
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Key terms such as imprint, post-nature, stressors, and ontological vulnerability are increasingly widespread in social analyses of the Anthropocene and postgenomics. In this paper I discuss some biopolitical implications of conceiving the human genome as decisively imprinted by social structures (Lappé and Landecker, 2015). I explore the often overlooked connection between eugenics and biological plasticity (rather than fixedness) claiming that if individual bodies and whole populations are conceived as 'impressionable' to their genomic core by social forces, they are likely to become bodies and social groups at continuous risk of degeneration (accumulation of ‘epigenetic loads’ or 'dysbiotic' alterations) and therefore in need of intervention and optimization (Meloni, 2016). I analyze in my paper how plasticity is played out differentially and strategically among different social groups, becoming a gendered and racialized phenomenon (Mansfield, 2012; Meloni, 2017) with a particular emphasis on the growing importance of developmental plasticity programs (such as Developmental Origins of Health and Disease-DOHaD) in the Global South. I conclude by asking what emerging social order may be mirrored or enacted in this emerging figure of the postgenomic 'impressionable body'.

Lappé, M., and H. Landecker (2015). How the genome got a life span. New Genetics and Society 34(2): 152-176.
Mansfield, B. (2012). Race and the new epigenetic biopolitics of environmental health. BioSocieties, 7(4): 352-372.
Meloni, M. (2016) Political Biology: Science and Social Values in Human Heredity from Eugenics to Epigenetics. London: Palgrave
Meloni, M. (2017) Race in an Epigenetic Time: Thinking Biology in The Plural. British Journal of Sociolo

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