How the social gets under the skin: Epigenetics and inequalities in health
(University of Sheffield)
Maurizio Meloni (Deakin University)
Paper short abstract:
Paper long abstract:
How do life experiences affect the body, brain and behaviour? The means by which social factors, such as poverty, become somatically embodied is poorly understood. The emerging field of epigenetics promises to bring a new wealth of evidence to help understand these processes. Epigenetics involves molecular mechanisms that translate social-environmental information into altered patterns of gene regulation and provides a paradigm for understanding "how the social gets under the skin". It is an emerging domain within post-genomics that crosses the boundaries between biological, medical and social science and is being constructed within a series of epistemic niches. This paper analyses new scientific discourses, ontological shifts and changing normative regimes around one of these sites: studies of the link between socio-economic status and inequalities in health. Epigenetic mechanisms are now seen as important in mediating the persistent link between deprivation and poor health. A number of socio-technical dynamics are involved, including: a) the creation of new hybrid forms of biosocial knowledge; 2) the destabilisation of established boundaries between the body and its environment; 3) The constitution of what might be called the 'epigenetic body' characterised by new chains of causality in terms of disease aetiology, changing temporalities that extend across generational, and a flattened molecular ontology in which social categories like food, class, and gender are increasingly reconceptualised in terms of their molecular effects on the body. In conclusion, some reflections will be made about how epigenetics may provide a rationale for new forms of intervention that target particular social groups.