The Political Implications of Epigenetics: Emerging Narratives and Ideologies

Robison, Shea K. “The political implications of epigenetics Emerging narratives and ideologies.” Politics & Life Sciences 35, no. 2 (2016): 30-53.

Copyright Cambridge University Press. Reprinted with permission.

ABSTRACT

Background.

Epigenetics, which is just beginning to attract public attention and policy discussion, challenges conventional understanding of gene-environment interaction and intergenerational inheritance and perhaps much more besides.

Question.

Does epigenetics challenge modern political ideologies?

Methods.

I analyzed the narratives of obesity and epigenetics recently published in the more liberal New York Times and the more conservative Wall Street Journal. For the years 2010 through 2014, 50 articles on obesity and 29 articles on epigenetics were identified, and elements in their causal narratives were quantitatively analyzed using a well-described narrative policy framework.

Findings.

The narratives on obesity aligned with the two newspapers’ reputed ideologies. However, the narratives on epigenetics aligned with neither ideology but freely mixed liberal and conservative elements.

Discussion.

This small study may serve as a starting point for broader studies of epigenetics as it comes to affect political ideologies and, in turn, public policies. The narrative mix reported here could yet prove vulnerable to ideological capture, or, more optimistically, could portend the emergence of a “third-way” narrative using epigenetics to question atomistic individualism and allowing for less divisiveness in public-health domains such as obesity.

Link to full text: The political implications of epigenetics

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