Re-thinking nature-culture: Anthropology and the new genetics

  • Franklin S
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This article explores the implications of ‘the new genetics’ for anthropology as questions of articulation, connection, and relation – or as the production of difference. Using Marilyn Strathern’s model of merographic connection, and drawing on recent ethnographic work on the new genetics, including my own, the question of what kinds of connections and relations are being forged through emergent forms of genetic information is critically explored both empirically and theoretically. In particular, the theme of a genetic ‘gap’, between ‘objective’ genetic facts and socially- forged identities and categorizations, provides the occasion to contrast different ethnographic and theoretical models of the social meaning of DNA. I argue that the ways in which genetic information is always partial – in both senses, of being already invested with presumptions and always incomplete – have consequences for how genetic connections are formed, and genetic relationships are understood. The desire to extract ‘clear’ biological messages from genes conflicts with the desire to instruct, and alter, them, recapitulating a familiar hybridity at the heart of English kinship thinking – that our biology is both made and bred.

Author-supplied keywords

  • Genetic identity
  • Human embryos
  • Kinship
  • Merography
  • Nature-culture debates

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