The symposium Genetics, Eugenics and Culture: Transatlantic Perspectives, 1900-2000 is organized by Prof.Dr. Toine Pieters, Dr. Jaap Verheul and Dr. Pim Huijnen of Utrecht University and will be held as part of the 24th International Congress of History of Science, Technology and Medicine in Manchester from 22 to 28 July 2013. Those who would wish to participate are kindly requested to send an abstract of the proposed paper (maximum 300 words) together with his/her short academic curriculum to the e-mail address firstname.lastname@example.org. The deadline is 5 December 2012. The organizers will inform every applicant about inclusion of his/her paper into the conference program till 31 December 2012.
Eugenics can be seen as a biological theory of human improvement that was informed and vitalized by revolutionary developments in biology and medicine. These scientific insights seemed to promise a new cure not only for a wide range of diseases but also for social problems. The social applications of the biological sciences have initiated debates about social differentiation, scientific responsibility, medical ethics, reproductive autonomy, and human rights that resonate until the present day. Eugenics can equally be regarded as a social and cultural philosophy of individual and collective identity within the context of modernity. However, the dominant focus of historians on racial eugenics and on the seemingly “pseudo-scientific” nature of the eugenics movements has prevented us from fully understanding the historical meaning of eugenics and its intricate and contested relationships with biology, medicine, and the health of the nation.
Multiple discourses converge around the use and adaptation of genetic knowledge in the workplace, the home, and the wider world. One could think, to name just one intriguing example, the use of the terminology of “improvement” and “purification” within the context of the nature conservation movement. This symposium aims to present research on the transatlantic dimensions of genetics, eugenics, and the cultural contexts in which they developed in the twentieth century and focuses on the various pertinent questions that arise from the use and abuse of genetic knowledge both before and after the Second World War. These questions have to do with the relation between individual wellbeing and national interest, with privacy and state control, and, most pertinently, with the human body and the body politic:
1. How did knowledge claims travel between these discourses, between countries and communities and how were these knowledge claims translated into the practices of everyday life?
2. To what extent did discourses about heredity, genetics and eugenics follow different trajectories in various European countries and the United States?
3. How were genetics and eugenics used to construct categories of differentiation and “othering” such as race, ethnicity, normalcy and gender?
We particularly welcome papers that relate to these or similar questions, either from a transnational or comparative point of view, or focusing on case studies. By exploring an interdisciplinary and transatlantic approach this symposium aims to place the popular and pervasive movement of eugenics at the crossroads of fundamental debates about the role of the biological sciences as part of the “modernization project”.
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