Genomics and identity: the bioinformatisation of human life [Book Review]

Medicine, Health Care and Philosophy 12 (2):125-136 (2009)
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The genomics “revolution” is spreading. Originating in the molecular life sciences, it initially affected a number of biomedical research fields such as cancer genomics and clinical genetics. Now, however, a new “wave” of genomic bioinformation is transforming a widening array of disciplines, including those that address the social, historical and cultural dimensions of human life. Increasingly, bioinformation is affecting “human sciences” such as psychiatry, psychology, brain research, behavioural research (“behavioural genomics”), but also anthropology and archaeology (“bioarchaeology”). Thus, bioinformatics is having an impact on how we define and understand ourselves, how identities are formed and constituted, and, finally, on how we (on the basis of these redefined identities) assess and address some of the more concrete societal issues involved in genomics governance in various settings. This article explores how genomics and bioinformation, by influencing research agendas in the human sciences and the humanities, are affecting our self-image, our identity, the way we see ourselves. The impact of bioinformation on self-understanding will be assessed on three levels: (1) the collective level (the impact of comparative genomics on our understanding of human beings as a species), (2) the individual level (the impact of behavioural genomics on our understanding of ourselves as individuals), and (3) the genealogical level (the impact of population genomics on our understanding of human history, notably early human history). This threefold impact will be assessed from two seemingly incompatible philosophical perspectives, namely a “humanistic” perspective (represented in this article by Francis Fukuyama) and a “post-humanistic” one (represented by Peter Sloterdijk). On the basis of this analysis it will be concluded that, rather than focussing on human “enhancement” by adding or deleting genes, genome-oriented practices of the Self will focus on using genomics information in the context of identity-formation. Genomic bioinformation will increasingly be built into our self-images and used in order to tailor and adapt our practices of Self to our “personalised” genome. We will keep working on ourselves, no doubt, not by modifying our genomes, but rather by fine-tuning our behaviour. What we are experiencing is a bioinformatisation of the life-world. Genomics-based technologies will increasingly pervade our daily lives, our autobiographies and narratives, as well as our anthropologies, rather than our genomes as such
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