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Medical sociology looks at genetics in two ways: its explanations of human behavior, and its impact on the health sector.
Genetic science often assumes a determinate relationship between biology and society. However:
- Reproductive choice is not determined purely by biological fitness, but the availability of partners in an environment that is socially and culturally stratified.
- Genotypes cannot be labeled as good” or bad,” but only as more or less adaptive in environments that are as much social and cultural as biological.
- Claims of a biological basis for deviance ignore the absence of inherent meaning in behavior, which makes this a matter of social context and cultural definition.
Medical sociologists ask why such naive accounts of human social behavior are taken seriously. Who wants this knowledge? Whose interests does it serve?
“Geneticization” describes the way in which differences between humans are reduced to differences in their genes. It has been associated with “genetic exceptionalism,” the idea that genetic information is so radically novel that it requires an entirely new body of social analysis. This claim now looks like an acceptance by medical sociologists of the hyping of genetic research rather than a critical assessment. Many supposedly unique features of genetic medicine reincarnate well-established topics like professional-patient interaction, the nature of disease and its relation to other forms of deviance, the structuring of health services and the choice between public and private systems of funding. However, medical sociology and the sociology of science and technology do converge in new research lines, on the present impact of different imagined futures, on the balance between science, commerce, and regulation in R&D, and on the organization and ethics of trials.
Pilnick, A. (2002) Genetics and Society: An Introduction. Open University Press, Buckingham.
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