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  • Print publication year: 1996
  • Online publication date: June 2011

12 - Families, kinship and genetics

from Part III - Social context
Summary

I am the family face;

Flesh perishes, I live on,

Projecting trait and trace

Through time to times anon,

And leaping from place to place

Over oblivion.

Thomas Hardy, 1840–1928: Heredity.

Introduction

Genetics concerns families and kinship. It is the study of the ways in which heritable characteristics and conditions are passed from parents to children through the generations. As the new genetics develops, the possibilities of describing the gene mutations that an individual may carry and may pass to children are increasing dramatically. This new knowledge and the ways in which it is employed may have profound consequences for family life and relationships.

The public's knowledge and beliefs about inheritance have not arisen de novo with the coming of the new genetics, or even with Mendelian genetics at the turn of the century: they have long been part of family culture. Much family talk is about particular characteristics of family members, who these may have been acquired from, and who they may be passed to. Witnessing family members greet a new baby demonstrates the important process of ‘placing’ the new baby in terms of characteristics shared with forebears. Increasingly, we have photographs and other visual evidence of the appearance of our forebears and we use these to point to similarities and differences. In my own family I am said to get my nose from my mother's family but have a temperament more like some of my father's male relatives.

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The Troubled Helix
  • Online ISBN: 9780511570049
  • Book DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/CBO9780511570049
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