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Epigenetics, Education, and the Plastic Body: Changing Concepts and New Engagements

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Original languageEnglish
JournalResearch in Education
Early online date1 Aug 2019
DOIs
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 1 Aug 2019

Abstract

Epigenetic processes, and the investigative practices that take these as their focus, are of increasing interest to a range of professionals beyond biomedicine. This has been piqued by, especially, the belief that bioscientific research is demonstrating new molecular mechanisms through which the social and physical environment impact upon the bodies of humans and other animals. Beyond the laboratory, epigenetic notions are entangled with wider ideas about the malleability of the soma (e.g., relating to neuroscience). In many contexts (including, to an extent, education), this intertwinement has contributed to producing and valourising a conception of a particularly plastic body. In this paper, I draw on a range of biomedical and education-related texts in order to outline and reflect upon the notions of ‘education’ and ‘epigenetics’ that are supported through and propelled by an array of writings that, to greater or lesser extents, bring these spheres of praxis into conversation. Discussions of epigenetics and stress, for instance, are framing certain kinds of educational work (e.g., with new parents) as a means of intervening in soma and society. In so doing, they implicitly extend ideas about what education is and what it can do. On the other hand, writings from educational researchers, for example, are enrolling epigenetic findings and ideas to support various positions or approaches. Many education researchers will be sceptical of some of the more hyperbolic assertations made about the significance of epigenetics. However, the fact that a nascent discourse connecting education and epigenetics is emerging is suggestive of a need for reciprocal, thoughtful, and critical exchange with bioscientists who seek to address educational issues, or whose work is being enrolled by others to do so.

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