The Manifestation of Modernity in Genetic Science

Bo Isenberg, Niclas Hagen

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaper, not in proceedingpeer-review


The transition to modernity signifies a fundamental change in European culture and conduct of life. Alfred Weber speaks of ”the most profound crisis that the Occidental world had experienced so far”. Crisis is the existential manifestation of modernity's constituting and regulating characteristic: contingency. Contingency means that nothing has to be the way it is, but could be otherwise as well; and everything could be interpreted (treated) in different ways, at the same time. Contingency constitutes the core conception to classical modern thinking and its variations, including classical sociology. Against this conceptual background, he paper establishes a conceptual social and cultural framework for those specific and significant modern, ever emerging practices which from the late 19th century has modulated mans genetic underpinnings as ”the plenitude of the possible” (Foucault), e. g. eugenics, racial hygiene, genetics. Formulated in the opposite way, it articulates the manifestation of modernity in genetic science. Accordingly, modern culture forms the precondition for the eugenic movements and its various practices of reproductive interventions, which are influenced by culture, self-images, expectations, as well as images of what would be possible and desirable. The eugenic movements and their practices thereby exemplify the ”co-productive” (Jasanoff) state between science and modernity, where heritability at disposal for man through genetics transformed fears of biological degeneration into opportunities and future hopes. The subsequent rise of molecular biology, and its ”molecular vision of life” (Kay), represents a direct continuation of this ”co-production” between science and modernity. A number of notions related to contingency will also be deployed: self-assertion, viability; nature, artifacts; normal – pathological; self-dynamic of the new, innovation; from real possibilities to possible realities; promissory science; risk, fear.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages15
Publication statusUnpublished - 2009
EventBiology, Anthropology and Cultural Criticism in the European Modern Age - Eichstätt, Germany
Duration: 2009 Jun 27 → …


ConferenceBiology, Anthropology and Cultural Criticism in the European Modern Age
Period2009/06/27 → …

Subject classification (UKÄ)

  • Sociology (excluding Social Work, Social Psychology and Social Anthropology)


  • Contingency
  • crisis
  • genetics
  • modernity


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