Rewriting Bodies, Portraiting Persons? The New Genetics, the Clinic and the Figure of the Human

Joanna Latimer*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Contemporary debate suggests that the new genetics may be changing ideas about the body and what it is to be human. Specifically, there are notions that the new genetics seems to erode the ideas that underpin modernity, such as the figure of the integrated, discrete, conscious individual body-self. Holding these ideas against the practices of genetic medicine, however, this article suggests a quite different picture; one that does not erase, but helps to keep in play, some crucial tenets of humanism. The article examines how the genetic clinic constructs clinical pictures as new forms of portraiture: assemblages in which multiple and heterogeneous images of bodies and their parts are juxtaposed. Rather than these portraits just making the distributed and hybrid nature of personhood explicit, shifts in ground mean that what is being portrayed is the possibility of a 'syndrome-genotype' relation. At first sight this appears as a straightforward geneticization of the body and the unravelling of the figure of the individual. But the article illustrates how, at the same time as the portraits of syndrome-genotypes are made up of many heterogeneous parts, the clinic still keeps in play an idea of persons that remains, unlike their bodies, much more than the sum of their parts. All the parts that make up the body of the person can still, at moments, be transcended, to refigure the human: the complex individual of humanist thought.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3-31
Number of pages29
JournalBody and Society
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2013


  • assemblage
  • biopolitics
  • dysmorphology
  • genetic medicine
  • geneticization of the body
  • humanism
  • postmodern biology

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