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Genes, genomes and identity. Projections on matter

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This paper aims to show that references to genes and genomes are counterproductive in legal and political understandings of what it is to be human and a unique individual. To support this claim, I will give a brief overview of the many incompatible meanings the term 'identity' has gathered in reference to genes or genome in the contexts of biology and family ancestry, personal identity, species identity. One finds various and incompatible understandings of these expressions. While genetics is usually considered to deliver definitive knowledge about history and the future, genomics seems to work with more complicated relations between DNA, inheritance and phenotype. In genomics, 'identity' is no longer about identification and status markers but about individualization. Regulatory and legal documents project from traits to genomes, implying that the individuality is at least represented, if not created, in a unique genome. Boundaries between humans and other animals, between different 'kinds' of humans, and between all individual humans are re-established via reference to the chemical matter of DNA. My analysis will show how this trend is a reactionary response to modern understandings of identities as social products and that it ignores new biomedical understandings of human bodies.
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Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: ESRC Centre for Genomics in Society (Egenis) University of Exeter Exeter UK

Publication date: December 1, 2004

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