The Enculturated Gene: Sickle Cell Health Politics and Biological Difference in West Africa

The Enculturated Gene: Sickle Cell Health Politics and Biological Difference in West Africa

by Duana Fullwiley

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In the 1980s, a research team led by Parisian scientists identified several unique DNA sequences, or haplotypes, linked to sickle cell anemia in African populations. After casual observations of how patients managed this painful blood disorder, the researchers in question postulated that the Senegalese type was less severe. The Enculturated Gene traces how this genetic discourse has blotted from view the roles that Senegalese patients and doctors have played in making sickle cell "mild" in a social setting where public health priorities and economic austerity programs have forced people to improvise informal strategies of care.

Duana Fullwiley shows how geneticists, who were fixated on population differences, never investigated the various modalities of self-care that people developed in this context of biomedical scarcity, and how local doctors, confronted with dire cuts in Senegal's health sector, wittingly accepted the genetic prognosis of better-than-expected health outcomes. Unlike most genetic determinisms that highlight the absoluteness of disease, DNA haplotypes for sickle cell in Senegal did the opposite. As Fullwiley demonstrates, they allowed the condition to remain officially invisible, never to materialize as a health priority. At the same time, scientists' attribution of a less severe form of Senegalese sickle cell to isolated DNA sequences closed off other explanations of this population's measured biological success.

The Enculturated Gene reveals how the notion of an advantageous form of sickle cell in this part of West Africa has defined--and obscured--the nature of this illness in Senegal today.

Some images inside the book are unavailable due to digital copyright restrictions.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781400840410
Publisher: Princeton University Press
Publication date: 11/07/2011
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 368
File size: 1 MB

About the Author

Duana Fullwiley is associate professor of anthropology at Stanford University.

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations viii
Preface ix
Acknowledgments xxv
Chapter One: Introduction: The Powers of Association 1
Chapter Two: Healthy Sicklers with "Mild" Disease: Local Illness Aff ects and Population- Level Eff ects 45
Chapter Three: The Biosocial Politics of Plants and People 77
Chapter Four: Attitudes of Care 119
Chapter Five: Localized Biologies: Mapping Race and Sickle Cell Difference in French West Africa 158
Chapter Six: Ordering Illness: Heterozygous "Trait" Suff ering in the Land of the Mild Disease 197
Chapter Seven: The Work of Patient Advocacy 221
Conclusion: Economic and Health Futures amid Hope and Despair 250
Notes 275
References 307
Index 329

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher

"Based on extensive ethnographic fieldwork, The Enculturated Gene admirably demonstrates how sickle cell disease forms new associations in and between the domains of biomedicine, biopolitics, and the everyday lives of sufferers. Fullwiley demonstrates that universalistic, biomedical concepts of disease have only limited value in understanding embodied, situated disease."—Stefan Beck, Humboldt University of Berlin

"In this meticulously crafted ethnography, Fullwiley exposes the tragic human consequences of a belief in a 'mild form' of sickle cell anemia thought to affect Senegalese. International donors, scientists, and local peoples alike adhere to this belief, fueled by cultural strategies of coping in an environment of shocking medical lack. This first book-length ethnography about genetic disease in Africa, a must-read for social scientists and health care professionals, demonstrates irrevocably how tangled power relations and biogenetic difference inform embodiment and subjectivity."—Margaret Lock, coauthor of An Anthropology of Biomedicine

"Duana Fullwiley has produced a richly textured ethnography of what it means to study the way medical science approaches a disease across broad cultural landscapes. In so doing, she has built a bridge across C. P. Snow's 'two cultures.'"—Troy Duster, author of Backdoor to Eugenics

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