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Gender Beneath the Skull: Agency, Trauma and Persisting Stereotypes in Neuroepigenetics

Lawson-Boyd, Eisher and Meloni, Maurizio 2021, Gender Beneath the Skull: Agency, Trauma and Persisting Stereotypes in Neuroepigenetics, Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, vol. 15, pp. 1-15, doi: 10.3389/fnhum.2021.667896.

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Title Gender Beneath the Skull: Agency, Trauma and Persisting Stereotypes in Neuroepigenetics
Author(s) Lawson-Boyd, Eisher
Meloni, MaurizioORCID iD for Meloni, Maurizio orcid.org/0000-0003-2570-3872
Journal name Frontiers in Human Neuroscience
Volume number 15
Article ID 667896
Start page 1
End page 15
Total pages 15
Publisher Frontiers Media SA
Place of publication Basel, Switzerland
Publication date 2021-06
ISSN 1662-5161
1662-5161
Keyword(s) family violence
gender
interdisciplinarity
neuroepigenetics
neuroscience
plasticity
qualitative research
trauma
Science & Technology
Social Sciences
Life Sciences & Biomedicine
Neurosciences
Psychology
Neurosciences & Neurology
EPIGENETIC INHERITANCE
ENVIRONMENTAL EPIGENETICS
BRAIN-DEVELOPMENT
VIOLENCE
STRESS
BEHAVIOR
FEMINISM
BIOLOGY
RACE
Summary Epigenetics stands in a complex relationship to issues of sex and gender. As a scientific field, it has been heavily criticized for disproportionately targeting the maternal body and reproducing deterministic views of biological sex (Kenney and Müller, 2017; Lappé, 2018; Richardson et al., 2014). And yet, it also represents the culmination of a long tradition of engaging with developmental biology as a feminist cause, because of the dispersal of the supposed ‘master code’ of DNA among wider cellular, organismic and ecological contexts (Keller, 1988). In this paper, we explore a number of tensions at the intersection of sex, gender and trauma that are playing out in the emerging area of neuroepigenetics - a relatively new subfield of epigenetics specifically interested in environment-brain relations through epigenetic modifications in neurons. Using qualitative interviews with leading scientists, we explore how trauma is conceptualized in neuroepigenetics, paying attention to its gendered dimensions. We address a number of concerns raised by feminist STS researchers in regard to epigenetics, and illustrate why we believe close engagement with neuroepigenetic claims, and neuroepigenetic researchers themselves, is a crucial step for social scientists interested in questions of embodiment and trauma. We argue this for three reasons: (1) Neuroepigenetic studies are recognizing the agential capacities of biological materials such as genes, neurotransmitters and methyl groups, and how they influence memory formation; (2) Neuroepigenetic conceptions of trauma are yet to be robustly coupled with social and anthropological theories of violence (Eliot, 2021; Nelson, 2021; Walby, 2013); (3) In spite of the gendered assumptions we find in neuroepigenetics, there are fruitful spaces – through collaboration – to be conceptualizing gender beyond culture-biology and nature-nurture binaries (Lock and Nguyen, 2010). To borrow Gravlee’s (2009: 51) phrase, we find reason for social scientists to consider how gender is not only constructed, but how it may “become biology” via epigenetic and other biological pathways. Ultimately, we argue that a robust epigenetic methodology is one which values the integrity of expertise outside its own field, and can have an open, not empty mind to cross-disciplinary dialogue.
Language eng
DOI 10.3389/fnhum.2021.667896
Indigenous content off
Field of Research 1109 Neurosciences
1701 Psychology
1702 Cognitive Sciences
HERDC Research category C1 Refereed article in a scholarly journal
Free to Read? Yes
Persistent URL http://hdl.handle.net/10536/DRO/DU:30153056

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Every reasonable effort has been made to ensure that permission has been obtained for items included in DRO. If you believe that your rights have been infringed by this repository, please contact drosupport@deakin.edu.au.