THE DNA MYSTIQUE by Dorothy Nelkin


The Gene as a Cultural Icon
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 Policy, popular culture, and genetics meet in this intelligent critique of our society's search for easy answers. Genetic essentialism is on the rise, contend Nelkin (Sociology/New York Univ.; The Creation Controversy, 1982, etc.) and Lindee (Sociology of Science/Univ. of Pennsylvania; Suffering Made Real, not reviewed). They argue convincingly that while the science of genetics doesn't offer conclusive biological information, it is shaping us culturally and being used to justify conservative social policy: If everything from intelligence and sexual orientation to alcoholism and violence is inherited, then problems can be controlled, ``not through the uncertain route of social reform, but through biological manipulation.'' The authors' assessment of genetics' dangerous social potential may sound like Orwellian alarmism, but they draw on solidly familiar examples from American popular culture, including television, movies, books, and the media (they cite, for instance, a TV movie, Tainted Blood, that posits homicidal tendencies being passed from mother to child). The book is also impressively up-to-date on the political front, bringing health insurance, adoption surrogacy, welfare reform, and concern about the family into the picture. This broad range of examples reflects the gene's remarkable currency--a power gained, Nelkin and Lindee claim, by the malleability of its potential. Culturally, the gene is conceived as everything from the computer chip of personal identity to the ``secular equivalent of the Christian soul.'' These assumptions bear frightening resemblance to the beliefs of the American eugenics movement in the early 1900s, say the authors, who point to a reemergence of social intolerance and blame. An important, timely commentary on the manipulation of scientific inquiry in the interest of political ideology.

Pub Date: April 1st, 1995
ISBN: 0-7167-2709-9
Page count: 288pp
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15th, 1995


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