Accepted paper:

Localizing the bio: risk, genes and the vulnerable in body in southern Brazil


Sahra Gibbon (University College London (UCL))

Paper short abstract:

Drawing on the notion of ‘local biologies’ and reflecting on ethnographic research in southern Brazil examining the emergence of cancer genetics this paper examines how risk, genes and the vulnerable body are rendered meaningful through understanding and knowing the bio as inherently plastic and contingent.

Paper long abstract:

Margaret Lock's notion of 'local biologies' formulated in response to differential experiences of the menopause in Japan (1996) has recently received renewed interest in the wake of transnational expansion of the life and medical sciences (Nguyen and Brotherton 2013) and increasing recognition of the contingency of the biological in fields such as neuroscience and genomics (Landecker 2011). There is an urgent need to explore the cultural practices, narratives and experiences through which a diverse combination of old and new local biologies are being configured in social and cultural arenas where historical and contemporary notions of the 'bio' maybe differently situated. This paper investigates the necessity of localizing the biological drawing on ethnographic research with patients, practitioners and scientists in the south of Brazil caught up in a nascent field of research and medicine known as cancer genetics. It examines how risk, genes, and the vulnerable body are rendered meaningful only through understanding and knowing the 'bio' as inherently plastic and contingent. My research suggest that the biological can for instance be informed by and be a direct product of intersubjective experiences across generations, this includes for many patients the agentive effect of emotions. I reflect on what attending to local biologies in this context means for the study of health and illness and for theorizing the body and the biological in medical anthropology.

panel P17
Repositioning health, illness and the body: the challenge of new theoretical approaches to medical anthropology