Ordinary Genomes

Science, Citizenship, and Genetic Identities

Ordinary Genomes

Book Pages: 264 Illustrations: 9 illustrations Published: September 2009

Anthropology > Cultural Anthropology, European Studies, Science and Technology Studies

Ordinary Genomes is an ethnography of genomics, a global scientific enterprise, as it is understood and practiced in the Netherlands. Karen-Sue Taussig’s analysis of the Dutch case illustrates how scientific knowledge and culture are entwined: Genetics may transform society, but society also transforms genetics. Taussig traces the experiences of Dutch people as they encounter genetics in research labs, clinics, the media, and everyday life. Through vivid descriptions of specific diagnostic processes, she illuminates the open and evolving nature of genetic categories, the ways that abnormal genetic diagnoses are normalized, and the ways that race, ethnicity, gender, and religion inform diagnoses. Taussig contends that in the Netherlands ideas about genetics are shaped by the desire for ordinariness and the commitment to tolerance, two highly-valued yet sometimes contradictory Dutch social ideals, as well as by Dutch history and concerns about immigration and European unification. She argues that the Dutch enable a social ideal of tolerance by demarcating and containing difference so as to minimize its social threat. It is within this particular construction of tolerance that the Dutch manage the meaning of genetic difference.


"An interesting case study of the interplay between science, culture and society. The book will be of particular relevance to scholars in medical anthropology, science and technology studies and health studies. This book will be of use to anyone seeking to explore the dynamics of history, religion, culture and their impact on the making of knowledge in natural science.” — Masae Kato, Genomics, Society and Policy

“Taussig’s monograph provides a counter-weight not only to the bold universal truths declared in the field of science, but also to representations of ‘the west’ as a monolith, because the forces that shape genetic science and biomedicine are, in all their complexity, distinctly Dutch. . . . I encourage a reading of Ordinary Genomes because of its analysis, and also as an exercise in analytical departure, and unstructured flight.”
— Abigail Baim-Lance, Somatosphere

“This well-written book provides an interesting and insightful analysis of genetic knowledge and biosocial practices. The cultural and social connection she uncovers between genetics and the nation is particularly useful.” — Casmir Macgregor, Society and Culture

Ordinary Genomes is a thoughtful, nuanced book. Among its many virtues are the clarity of Karen-Sue Taussig’s prose and her admirably fair and sympathetic presentation and analysis of the geneticists. With her close and careful readings of geneticists at work in the multiple spaces of the laboratory, the field, and the clinic, we get an all too rare ethnographic look at genetics-in-practice. Here we have fleshed out, complex figures who negotiate diagnoses, reflect on their own practices and knowledge, and allow us to enter a professional life that is probably far different from what we might have imagined. I cannot stress enough what an important achievement this is.” — Michael Fortun, editor of the journal Cultural Anthropology

Ordinary Genomes is a timely, provocative, compelling account of how research in the genome sciences at once challenges the norms of national culture and is made meaningful through those norms.” — Priscilla Wald, author of Contagious: Cultures, Carriers, and the Outbreak Narrative

“What might suspicions of religious inbreeding; Herman the Bull; anxiety about continued influence of Nazi eugenics; and the quest to be normal all have in common? These themes are skilfully woven together in Karen-Sue Taussig's thoughtful and provocative Ordinary Genomes which makes a very important case for the specificity of Dutch genetic perceptions and practices. Her account convinces us to rethink the meaning of ‘Western’ in light of Taussig's excellent ethnographic account of Dutch praxis—in and out of genetic medicine—as we imagine the many ways it teaches us to think about normality. This is an important book. It provides a classic anthropological argument for the importance of thinking comparatively, as we approach 21st century genomic medicine.” — Rayna Rapp, author of Testing Women, Testing the Fetus: The Social Impact of Amniocentesis in America


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Karen-Sue Taussig is Associate Professor of Anthropology at the University of Minnesota.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Acknowledgments ix

Introduction. Science, Subjectivity, and Citizenship 1

1. "God Made the World and the Dutch Made Holland" 17

2. Genetics and the Organization of Genetic Practice in the Netherlands 57

3. The Social and Clinical Production of Ordinariness 85

4. Backward and Beautiful: Calvinism, Chromosomes, and the Production of Genetic Knowledge 135

5. Bovine Abominations: Contesting Genetic Technologies 159

Epilogue. Ordinary Genomes in a Globalizing World 189

Notes 201

Bibliography 217

Index 235
Sales/Territorial Rights: World

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Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-4534-3 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-4516-9
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