Geneticization: Debates and Controversies


The term ‘geneticization’ describes a process where by there is an increasing tendency to use genetic explanations to describe differences between individuals and groups. Supporters of this position argue that the way in which genetics is described in the media and dealt with the medical profession risks increases inequality and discrimination on the basis of a belief in genetic determinism among policy‐makers and the public. While this ‘geneticization thesis’ has proved popular among social scientists and bioethicists, empirical research into the way in which people interpret media messages and how clinicians adopt genetic tests casts doubt on the simplistic, homogenous model underpinning the geneticization thesis, raising challenges to the way in which this process is researched.

Key concepts:

  • The concept of geneticization has been widely used to critique the social impact of genetic testing.

  • Empirical research undermines claims about the ubiquity and nature of geneticization.

  • Differing attitudes towards the use of empirical data are underlined by different approaches to the study of geneticization.

Keywords: reductionism; explanation; social impact; genetic essentialism


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Hedgecoe, Adam M(Dec 2009) Geneticization: Debates and Controversies. In: eLS. John Wiley & Sons Ltd, Chichester. [doi: 10.1002/9780470015902.a0005849.pub2]