Accepted Paper:

Epigenetic human: Maternal responsibility in making 'good' humans  


Ilke Turkmendag (Newcastle University)

Paper short abstract:

This paper examines how the new developments in the the landscape of epigenetics studies of maternal effects changes the notions of being a human.

Paper long abstract:

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. 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. 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 stigmatising mothers. This paper examines how epigenetics studies of maternal effects are represented in the public sphere and how responsibilities of mothers for the health of their children and future generations are understood and portrayed. It will analyse these emerging discourses in scientific reports, news and social media. The field of epigenetics is part of this comprehensive transformation that increasingly individualizes and privatizes the responsibility for social risks (Beck, 1992), and an example of a wider discourse of geneticisation, molecularisation and biologisation of being a human.

Panel T110
What does it mean to be Human in the 21st Century?