Plasticity and Programming: Feminism and the Epigenetic Imaginary
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CitationRichardson, Sarah S. 2017. “Plasticity and Programming: Feminism and the Epigenetic Imaginary.” Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society 43 (1) (September): 29–52. doi:10.1086/692446.
AbstractThe new science of epigenetics has raised hopes of an embrace of greater plasticity and variation
within the biology of sex, gender, and sexuality than previously appreciated. This essay describes and analyzes the integration of epigenetics research into the scientific study of core biological pathways related to sex, gender, and sexuality in the brain in the post-Human Genome Project era. Through a close reading of the primary scientific literature, it demonstrates that epigenetic approaches in this subfield remain continuous with historically well-entrenched models of hardwired brain sexual dimorphism. Considering the opportunities and dilemmas of feminist engagements with the fast-moving and still nascent field of epigenetics, it argues that while epigenetics might become a resource for studies of the development and plasticity of gendersexed bodies and identities, this will require active feminist contestations of the ontological and epistemological commitments of mainstream research in this field. Feminist attraction to the possibilities for epigenetic research to enable material investigation of gender embodiment and sexual variation follow a long tradition of feminist theoretical interest in plasticity-affirming biologies. Careful consideration of the case of epigenetics suggests a need for revised and more nuanced feminist appraisals of both plasticity-affirming and programming-centric models of biology, body, and sociality.
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