Article ID: CBB104627956

Expectation and futurity: The remarkable success of genetic determinism (2017)


Genetic determinism is nowadays largely questioned and widely criticized. However, if we look at the history of biology in the last one hundred years, we realize that genetic determinism has always been controversial. Why, then, did it acquire such relevance in the past despite facing longstanding criticism? Through the analysis of some of the ambitious expectations of future scientific applications, this article explores the possibility that part of the historical success of genetic determinism lies in the powerful rhetorical strategies that have connected the germinal matter with alluring bio-technological visions. Indeed, in drawing on the recent perspectives of “expectation studies” in science and technology, it will be shown that there has been an interesting historical relationship between reductionist notions of the gene as a hereditary unit, coded information or functional DNA segment, and startling prophecies of what controlling such an entity might achieve. It will also be suggested that the well-known promissory nature of genomics is far older than the emergence of biotechnology in the 1970s. At least from the time of the bio-utopias predicted by J.B.S. Haldane and J. S. Huxley, the gene has often been surrounded by what I call the “rhetoric of futurity”: a promissory rhetoric that, despite momentous changes in the life sciences throughout the 20th century, has remained relatively consistent over time.

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Authors & Contributors
Shea, Elizabeth Parthenia
Brandt, Christina
Watson, James D.
Berry, Andrew
Hopwood, David A.
Casser, Anja
Science as Culture
Berichte zur Wissenschaftsgeschichte
Science-Fiction Studies
American Literary History
History and Technology
British Journal for the History of Science
Alfred A. Knopf
State University of New York Press
Oxford University Press
University of Pennsylvania Press
University of Chicago Press
University of Miami
Science fiction
Science and literature
Genetic engineering
Clarke, Arthur Charles
Asimov, Isaac
Sterling, Bruce
Bellamy, Edward
Gibson, William
Bacon, Francis, 1st Baron Verulam
United States
Great Britain
San Francisco, CA
20th century
19th century
21st century
20th century, late
20th century, early
17th century
Stanford University

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