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End of Biodeterminism?

New Directions For Medical Anthropology

Biodeterminism understood as the positioning of the gene as the primary determinant of human existence at both individual and group levels has dominated the twentieth century, culminating in the completion of the human genome project in 2003, celebrated as “nature's complete genetic blueprint for building a human being”. Perhaps paradoxically, this achievement has contributed to the realization that the implied genetic – indeed biological – predetermination of human lives and human behaviour was vastly exaggerated within this paradigm. Among the scientific game changers is the new field of epigenetics that explores the interaction meeting environment and (de)activation of genetic dispositions that influence the individual human life but also may impact on the lives of subsequent generations. This new understanding of the malleability of human biology undermines the century-long insistence within the fields of medicine and epidemiology of the universality of human biology and calls, instead, of an understanding of local biologies.

Simultaneously, within anthropology and social sciences more widely, the classical distinction between nature and culture that founded the discipline, has increasingly been called into question and challenged. As a consequence of the blurring of its ontological boundary, anthropology is engaging with new areas of study, such as the anthropocene, human-animal interfaces and interaction between organs (e.g. brain, intestines) and environment. New medical-anthropological questions are also being asked regarding diseases and the traditional medical classification of these, such as that of communicable and non-communicable diseases, and the analysis of syndemics. What does the proposed understanding of local biologies and a potential socio-natural oneness mean for our understanding of spread of diseases that are considered ‘lifestyle’ diseases within the dominant medical paradigm?

The symposium will be engaging three core questions through a number of invited papers that seek to develop theoretical medical anthropological innovations at least two of these three challenges:

  • Local biologies and new technologies – exploring the changing interface between biology and anthropology
  • Theoretical dimensions of a new anthropology of global health
  • Epidemics – understanding epidemic potential across communicability and non-communicability

Registration is required and there is a limited number of seats. Deadline for registration is 15 September; registration may be closed earlier if the seat limitation is reached. 

NB: Due to overwhelming interest we regret to inform you that we no longer accept registrations.