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The maternal imprint: gender, heredity and the biosocial body

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The rise of Developmental Origins of Health and Disease and the fetal programming hypothesis is part of a forceful reassertion, over the past decade, of wide-ranging theories of the maternal-fetal interface as a critical determinant of lifelong health and intergenerational patterns in disease distribution. Presenting a history of maternal effects science from the advent of the genetic age to today, this talk analyses three intertwined dimensions of scientific speculations about the long reach of the maternal intrauterine imprint: interest in the power of maternal effects science to disrupt genetic determinist ideas about human fate; conceptual and empirical debate over how to study such effects given their crypticity; and claims about the implications of maternal intrauterine effects for women’s well-being and autonomy. In each historical period, scientists’ views about what can be empirically studied, and indeed known, about human maternal effects are entangled with cultural beliefs about women’s and men’s reproductive responsibilities and shaped by scientists’ politically and historically situated convictions about the relative importance of genes or social environment to life outcomes.

There will be tea before the lecture, at 3.30pm in Seminar Room 1, and a drinks reception afterwards in Seminar Room 1.

This talk is part of the Wellcome Lecture in the History of Medicine series.

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