Geneticisation: Concept


Geneticisation is the sociocultural process of interpreting and explaining human beings using the terminology and concepts of genetics, so that not only health and disease but also all human behaviour and social interactions are viewed through the prism of biomolecular technology. Introduced in the 1990s, it has developed into a heuristic tool to study and critically analyse the impact of the new genetics at the levels of the individual as well as society and culture, but also within healthcare by influencing and transforming notions of health and disease, diagnosis and prevention. Clarification of the concept is provided in this contribution. Lessons can be learned from the earlier concept of medicalisation. Using the concept of geneticisation in bioethics requires a critical analysis of the current ethical discourse in genetics, particularly the dominating principle of respect for autonomy. It also requires examination of common notions of responsibility and human identity that are undergoing significant transformation under the influence of the new genetics. Geneticisation draws attention back to social–ethical issues as well as the relevancy of social and cultural context, which tend to be neglected or disregarded because of the current fascination with genetics.

Key Concepts:

  • The advances of the new genetics have transformed society and (popular) culture, attributing an impact to genetics that goes beyond its scientific significance; this is called ‘geneticisation’.

  • Bioethical analysis should not only focus on the individual level but also on the social and cultural level.

Keywords: autonomy; bioethics; culture; disease; geneticisation; genetic essentialism; genetic reductionism; health; medicalisation; society


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ten Have, Henk AMJ(Apr 2012) Geneticisation: Concept. In: eLS. John Wiley & Sons Ltd, Chichester. [doi: 10.1002/9780470015902.a0005896.pub2]