Beyond the gene roundtable discussion

Mandy Bloomfield*, Peter Garratt, Deborah J.G. Mackay, Angelique Richardson, Tim Spector, Karen Temple

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This virtual discussion between biomedical researchers and academics in the literary humanities took place in June–July 2013, through the medium of blog and email. The participants are Tim Spector (Genetic Epidemiology), Karen Temple (Medical Genetics), Angelique Richardson (Literary Studies), Deborah J.G. Mackay (Human Genetics) and Peter Garratt (Literary Studies). The conversation was initiated and convened by Mandy Bloomfield (Literary Studies). What develops in the course of the discussion is a sense of the ways in which biomedical researchers working on genetics are discovering new complexities with profound cultural and philosophical implications, whilst those working in the humanities are considering what those implications might be, but from a position on the edges of specialist scientific knowledge and modes of thinking. Perhaps inevitably, we sometimes find we are not speaking quite the same language. And this question of language – of metaphors, varieties of meaning, precision and indeterminacy – crops up time and again in this discussion. Perhaps it is in these frictive edges between disciplines that productive dialogue can happen, and we can learn from the differences between perspectives. For example, in this discussion the ‘nurture–nature’ dichotomy is interrogated in different ways, but with equivalent levels of reflective rigour, by researchers in the biomedical and humanities disciplines alike. What do we really mean by those terms? What are the historical components of this conceptual divide? Is it even possible to separate ‘nurture’ from ‘nature’? If a consensus emerges from this discussion, it is that current research in both the sciences and the humanities is blurring the distinctions between such dichotomous constructions as ‘nature vs. nurture’ in ways that are changing thinking and practices across the disciplines. Whether this takes us to a revaluation of Victorian understandings of organism and environment, or into ever-more complicated relationships between medical practitioners and their patients, we are, as one participant puts it, ‘in for an interesting time'.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)415-432
JournalTextual Practice
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 16 Apr 2015


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