In considering the question of the socially transformative potential of ge-
nomic knowledge and technology, I have argued that caution is advisable.
Transformation may occur, but very unevenly: it depends on how much you
have invested in genomics and how engaged with it you are. For associations
of patients affected by ge­ne­tic disorders, or even diseases said to have a
significant but as yet indeterminate ge­ ne ­ tic component, genomics may have
significant effects on perceptions of belonging, relatedness, ­ f amily, citizen-
ship, risk, the ­ future, and self. Notions of identity, and indeed of what it
means to be ­ human, may be subject to impor­tant changes. But change is not
in a zero-­ s um relationship with continuity: more of the first does not neces-
sarily mean less of the second.
The concept of race illustrates this very well. Ge­ ne ­ tics has both altered
and reinforced this concept in dif­fer­ent ways, from the moment the science
emerged as a named specialism in the early twentieth ­century. At first, ge­ne­tic
data ­ were drawn into “racial studies” and ­ w ere used in an attempt to describe
“races,” now defined in terms of the frequency distribution of specific traits.
This was not a new endeavor: as I pointed out in chapter 1, the sociologist
William Z. Ripley was already talking in terms of frequency distributions of
physical traits in his 1899 book, Races of Eu­rope. But he was attempting to infer
under­lying racial types or essences, a task which became increasingly fruitless
as ge­ne­tic data on ­human diversity multiplied. Ge­ne­tics thus refuted the pos-
sibility of distinct racial types—­already seen by Ripley as an “unattainable”
abstraction (cited by Stepan 1982: 94)—­ b ut retained the idea expressed by
Dobzhansky that “race differences are objectively ascertainable biological phe-
nomena” (Livingstone and Dobzhansky 1962), although some scientists re-
jected the idea that “race” expressed an objective biological real­ity (Lewontin
1972). In this ­century, the much-­cited datum that all ­humans are “99.9 ­percent
identical” in ge­ne­tic terms has been widely used to refute the concept of race
as a biological real­ i ty and attack it as a social categorization. However, other
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