The Political Implications of Epigenetics: Emerging Narratives and Ideologies

Does epigenetics challenge contemporary political ideologies? 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.

Epigenetics and the Cold War

The politicization of biology in the West before and during the Cold War was to play a significant role in the development of the science of genetics in the West over the subsequent fifty years, particularly in the prejudice against epigenetics—which also helps to explain the recent and seemingly sudden (re)emergence of epigenetics within the last decade or so.

Eugenics and the Rise of Population Genetics

The history of eugenics in early 20th century science must be addressed because of the sheer magnitude of its influence in the science and the politics of this era, its relation to the science of genetics that was to come, and because it provides such a strong example of the guiding model of this book of the inextricable connections between ideology, politics, and biology.

More About Waddington: Socialism, Science, and Epigenetics

The convergence of political ideology and biology in the work of Waddington helps to explain the development of his conception of the epigenotype, and of epigenetics as the scientific study of this epigenotype. Likewise, this convergence of biology and ideology is equally pertinent for understanding the development of the science of genetics as we now know it, which until the last decade or so more or less excluded epigenetics from serious consideration.

A Tale of Two Fields: Epigenetics and Biology Between the Wars

This divergence between embryology and genetics appears to have occurred for  legitimate scientific reasons, but also as “a struggle for power and authority.” These disciplinary differences coincided with the eventual sides taken in the Second World War. That genetics ultimately emerged as the hegemonic victor in science just as the U.S. emerged as the global hegemon after the war, is not merely coincidental.