Article ID: CBB962041543

Race and nutrition in the New World: Colonial shadows in the age of epigenetics (2019)


This paper addresses historical dimensions of epigenetic studies on human populations. We show that postgenomic research on health disparities in Latin America reintroduces old colonial views about the relations between race, environment, and social status. This especially refers to the idea – common in colonial humoralism and epigenetics – that different types of bodies are in balance and closely linked with particular local environments and lifestyles. These social differences become embodied as physiological and health differences. By comparing Spanish chronicles of the New World with recent epidemiological narratives on Mexican populations in social epigenetics (especially on obesity), we identify four characteristics that both share in distinguishing races, such as indigenous or mestizos from Spaniards or non-Mexicans: (i) Race is not intrinsic to bodies but emerges as a particular homeostatic body-environment relation; (ii) the stability of one's race is warranted through the stability of one's local environment and lifestyle, especially nutrition; (iii) every race faces specific life challenges in a local environment to maintain its health; and (iv) every race shows a unique social status that is closely linked to its biological status (e.g., disease susceptibility). Based on these similarities, we argue that currently in Latin America the field of epigenetics appears on the scene with a worrisome colonial shadow. It reintroduces long forgotten exclusionary and stereotypic perspectives on indigenous and mestizos, and biologizes as well as racializes social-cultural differences among human groups.

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Authors & Contributors
Morange, Michel
Hayden, Cori
Dorlin, Elsa
Cassata, Francesco
O'Loughlin, Erin
Qureshi, Sadiah
Social Studies of Science
Public Understanding of Science
Medicina nei Secoli - Arte e Scienza
Cultural Anthropology
History and Philosophy of the Life Sciences
American Journal of Physical Anthropology
Harvard University Press
Duke University Press
Éditions La Découverte
Central European University Press
University of Chicago Press
Oxford University Press
Biology and ethics; bioethics
Human body
Science and race
Waddington, Conrad Hal
Lysenko, Trofim Denisovich
Time Periods
21st century
20th century
19th century
20th century, late
17th century
16th century
Great Britain
United States

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