Of a Similar Nature: Epigenetics and Feminist Science Studies in Conversation Open Access

Turrin, Natalie (Spring 2018)

Permanent URL: https://etd.library.emory.edu/concern/etds/765371328?locale=en



This dissertation asks: what do the scientific discoveries of epigenetics offer feminist theories of the body? Epigenetics is a field of scientific inquiry that examines the relationship between DNA and the environmental contexts in which genes operate. The project considers how epigenetic research can be met by feminists with not only skepticism but also training in the theories and methods of both feminism and genetic science. Through an analysis of primary research articles that investigate the epigenetics of nurturing, parenting, sexuality, and post-traumatic stress disorder, this dissertation speaks to the challenges of producing scientific accounts that resist familiar feminist critiques and instead ask how feminist thinking can be informed by epigenetic data. First, through a close reading of two research papers, which conceptualize the link between nurturing and epigenetic regulation, the project demonstrate how epigenetic research grapples with complex behaviors at a molecular level and situates this research within a history of feminist engagement with science that pits nature against nurture. This dissertation also engages with histories of mother-blame in scientific research and argues that while feminist critiques of mother-blame are necessary, such critiques may be in disservice of transforming feminist politics. Rather, this dissertation calls for feminism to consider what we might extract from data that do not straightforwardly advance feminist politics. Taking sexuality as a third case study, the project also considers the persistence of anti-developmental accounts of complex phenomenon through the analysis of a research paper on epigenetics and sexuality. Finally, the project examines epigenetic research on post-traumatic stress disorder. Informed by the work of Susan Oyama and Anne Fausto-Sterling, it draws attention to the difficulties of breaking from anti-developmental accounts of biology and also to the persistence of interactionist research that does little to move the needle beyond the framing of phenomenon as merely biological and/or socially constructed. This project argues that feminists cannot rely on this research as fodder for dismissal but must instead closely examine epigenetic science in order to produce knowledge that is useful to feminist understandings of biology and the body, nature and nurture, and genes and the environment.





Table of Contents






Chapter 1: Operationalizing the Environmental ‘Black Box’: Emerging Epigenetic Frameworks and Methodologies





Chapter 2: “I Got It From my Mama!” – Epigenetics, Blame, and the Limits of Feminist Critique




Chapter 3: Epigenetics and the Evolutionary Mystery of Homosexuality




Chapter 4: Epigenetic Fantasies and Failures: Sex Differences, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, and the Allure of Epigenetic Resolution






















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