A Cultural History of Heredity

University of Chicago Press
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It was only around 1800 that heredity began to enter debates among physicians, breeders, and naturalists. Soon thereafter it evolved into one of the most fundamental concepts of biology. Here Staffan Müller-Wille and Hans-Jörg Rheinberger offer a succinct cultural history of the scientific concept of heredity. They outline the dramatic changes the idea has undergone since the early modern period and describe the political and technological developments that brought about these changes.

Müller-Wille and Rheinberger begin with an account of premodern theories of generation, showing that these were concerned with the procreation of individuals rather than with hereditary transmission. The authors reveal that when hereditarian thinking first emerged, it did so in a variety of cultural domains, such as politics and law, medicine, natural history, breeding, and anthropology. Müller-Wille and Rheinberger then track theories of heredity from the late nineteenth century—when leading biologists considered it in light of growing societal concerns with race and eugenics—through the rise of classical and molecular genetics in the twentieth century, to today, as researchers apply sophisticated information technologies to understand heredity. What readers come to see from this exquisite history is why it took such a long time for heredity to become a prominent concept in the life sciences and why it gained such overwhelming importance in those sciences and the broader culture over the last two centuries.
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About the author

Staffan Müller-Wille is a senior lecturer and research associate with the ESRC Centre for Genomics in Society and the Centre for Medical History, both at the University of Exeter. Hans-Jörg Rheinberger is director at the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science in Berlin. They are the editors of Heredity Produced: At the Crossroads of Biology, Politics, and Culture, 1500–1870.
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Additional Information

Publisher
University of Chicago Press
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Published on
Jun 22, 2012
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Pages
288
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ISBN
9780226545721
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Language
English
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Genres
History / General
Science / General
Science / History
Science / Life Sciences / Genetics & Genomics
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Content Protection
This content is DRM protected.
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Hans-Jörg Rheinberger
An Epistemology of the Concrete brings together case studies and theoretical reflections on the history and epistemology of the life sciences by Hans-Jörg Rheinberger, one of the world’s foremost philosophers of science. In these essays, he examines the history of experiments, concepts, model organisms, instruments, and the gamut of epistemological, institutional, political, and social factors that determine the actual course of the development of knowledge. Building on ideas from his influential book Toward a History of Epistemic Things, Rheinberger first considers ways of historicizing scientific knowledge, and then explores different configurations of genetic experimentation in the first half of the twentieth century and the interaction between apparatuses, experiments, and concept formation in molecular biology in the second half of the twentieth century. He delves into fundamental epistemological issues bearing on the relationship between instruments and objects of knowledge, laboratory preparations as a special class of epistemic objects, and the note-taking and write-up techniques used in research labs. He takes up topics ranging from the French “historical epistemologists” Gaston Bachelard and Georges Canguilhem to the liquid scintillation counter, a radioactivity measuring device that became a crucial tool for molecular biology and biomedicine in the 1960s and 1970s. Throughout An Epistemology of the Concrete, Rheinberger shows how assemblages—historical conjunctures—set the conditions for the emergence of epistemic novelty, and he conveys the fascination of scientific things: those organisms, spaces, apparatuses, and techniques that are transformed by research and that transform research in turn.
Staffan Müller-Wille
This book examines the wide range of scientific and social arenas in which the concept of inheritance gained relevance in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Although genetics emerged as a scientific discipline during this period, the idea of inheritance also played a role in a variety of medical, agricultural, industrial, and political contexts.

The book, which follows an earlier collection, Heredity Produced (covering the period 1500 to 1870), addresses heredity in national debates over identity, kinship, and reproduction; biopolitical conceptions of heredity, degeneration, and gender; agro-industrial contexts for newly emerging genetic rationality; heredity and medical research; and the genealogical constructs and experimental systems of genetics that turned heredity into a representable and manipulable object. Taken together, the essays in Heredity Explored show that a history of heredity includes much more than the history of genetics, and that knowledge of heredity was always more than the knowledge formulated as Mendelism. It was the broader public discourse of heredity in all its contexts that made modern genetics possible.

ContributorsCaroline Arni, Christophe Bonneuil, Christina Brandt, Luis Campos, Jean-Paul Gaudillière, Bernd Gausemeier, Jean Gayon, Veronika Lipphardt, Ilana Löwy, J. Andrew Mendelsohn, Staffan Müller-Wille, Diane B. Paul, Theodore M. Porter, Alain Pottage, Hans-Jörg Rheinberger, Marsha L. Richmond, Helga Satzinger, Judy Johns Schloegel, Alexander von Schwerin, Hamish G. Spencer, Ulrike Vedder

Staffan Müller-Wille
This book examines the wide range of scientific and social arenas in which the concept of inheritance gained relevance in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Although genetics emerged as a scientific discipline during this period, the idea of inheritance also played a role in a variety of medical, agricultural, industrial, and political contexts.

The book, which follows an earlier collection, Heredity Produced (covering the period 1500 to 1870), addresses heredity in national debates over identity, kinship, and reproduction; biopolitical conceptions of heredity, degeneration, and gender; agro-industrial contexts for newly emerging genetic rationality; heredity and medical research; and the genealogical constructs and experimental systems of genetics that turned heredity into a representable and manipulable object. Taken together, the essays in Heredity Explored show that a history of heredity includes much more than the history of genetics, and that knowledge of heredity was always more than the knowledge formulated as Mendelism. It was the broader public discourse of heredity in all its contexts that made modern genetics possible.

ContributorsCaroline Arni, Christophe Bonneuil, Christina Brandt, Luis Campos, Jean-Paul Gaudillière, Bernd Gausemeier, Jean Gayon, Veronika Lipphardt, Ilana Löwy, J. Andrew Mendelsohn, Staffan Müller-Wille, Diane B. Paul, Theodore M. Porter, Alain Pottage, Hans-Jörg Rheinberger, Marsha L. Richmond, Helga Satzinger, Judy Johns Schloegel, Alexander von Schwerin, Hamish G. Spencer, Ulrike Vedder

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