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News and resources on French thinker Michel Foucault (1926-1984)

Sergio Resende Carvalho,Ricardo Rodrigues Teixeira, Politics of life itself and the future of medical practices: dialogues with Nikolas Rose (Part 3), Interface – Comunicação, Saúde, Educação
On-line version ISSN 1807-5762
Interface (Botucatu) vol.21 no.60 Botucatu Jan./Mar. 2017

http://dx.doi.org/10.1590/1807-57622016.0848

Extract

This is the third and last interview with Nikolas Rose which we sought to explore important aspects of his wide academic production. At the first interview1 we explore aspects about State, Public Policy and Health and their relation with the concept of governmentality. On the second2 on we discussed the role of psy’s knowledge and practices in the government of conduct. I this last one we had the opportunities to reflect with Rose on his current researches about the transformations of life sciences, biomedicine, neurosciences relating those changes with the clinical practices and their impact upon the Health Systems.

POLITICS OF LIFE ITSELF AND A NEW STYLE OF THOUGHT

After affirming that ‘the truth discourse of contemporary genomics no longer sees genes as the hidden entities that determine us” and that new technologies had open ‘“the gene” to knowledge and technique at the molecular level”, you affirm that we are entering a new ‘style of thought’ (ways to think, see and intervene) where the molecularization of vitality is central to it, that at this molecular level life itself has become open to politics, that biology is not destiny but opportunity. Can you detail this idea for us?

Well, there are two parts to that question. The first part is about determinism and biological determinism. So let me start by saying a little bit about that. I suppose genetics is the clearest example of the retreat of biological determinism. Genetic determinism, the idea that the complement of genes with which an individual is born shapes inescapably their capacities, both physical and mental, has if not completely disappeared at least become significantly weakened. We know that this idea that the gene is like a single unit of DNA and all the genes are stretched out like beads on a string on the chromosomes and that each gene determines a particular protein which creates a particular characteristic. We know that this idea has been disproved by developments in genomics following the human genome project. So now we know that humans do not have 100 000 or perhaps even 300 000 genes that were hypothesized. They have about 20 to 25 000 coding sequences, and that these sequences are spread across many parts of the genome, they can be read in many different ways and what’s crucial is not so much the genes, but how they are activated. Secondly, we know, and this is now becoming a cliché of what’s called epigenetics, we know that what’s crucial is not the DNA that you are born with, but how this is activated or de-activated across a lifetime in a process called methylation which enables the DNA sequence to produce its effects. We know that these epigenetic processes are shaped in all sorts of ways by the relationship between the organism and its milieu. In fact, developmental geneticists have known this known this for many decades, but now this has become a much more salient way of trying to understand how genes are expressed in organisms across a lifetime. All these and many other developments suggest that genetic determinism, as a general programme for understanding not only biological organisms but their destiny is no longer the style of thought that characterises contemporary genetics.

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