Negotiating Novelty: Constructing the Novel within Scientific Accounts of Epigenetics

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Abstract

Epigenetics is regarded by many as a compelling domain of biomedicine. The purported novelty of epigenetics has begun to have various societal ramifications, particularly in relation to processes of responsiblisation. Within sociology, it has stimulated hopeful debate about conceptual rapprochements between the biomedical and social sciences. This article is concerned with how novelty is socially produced and negotiated. The paper engages directly with scientists’ talk and writings about epigenetics (as process and field of study). I aim to advance an explicitly sociological analysis about the novelty of epigenetics that underscores its social production rather than an account which participates in its reification. I attend to definitional skirmishes, comparisons with genetics, excitement and intrigue, and considerations of the ethical dimensions of epigenetics. Any assertions that epigenetics is exciting or important should not inadvertently elide reflexive consideration of how such characterisations might be part of the machinery by which they become real.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)600-618
JournalSociology
Volume55
Issue number3
Early online date17 Nov 2020
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jun 2021

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