Since the 1990s, genomics has promised cures for major challenges to human survival, among them disease, food shortages, fertility problems, and climate change. It has offered a vision of a better world by sequencing and modifying the building blocks of life. This promise of a better world echoes the statistical utopianism of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, particularly in the measurement of norms and averages to cure social problems. At least one legacy of this thinking in the current techno-sphere is the idea that good and bad health can be assessed through biometric calculation. What has changed are the tools for measuring these values. Human traits disappear into caches of genetic information, estimated and compared in segments, at a distance from the medical descriptions, social values, historical systems, ecological milieux, and literary conventions that have supplied these traits with meaning. This surplus of information needs new narratives to justify the cost of intervening in life at molecular scales. Drawing out the surprising proximity between narratives and technologies of genomic sequencing, this talk looks back to the concerns of the statistical utopians, and forward to the forms that anti-eugenics might take after the genome.
Lara Choksey is Lecturer in Colonial and Postcolonial Literatures in the Department of English at University College London, where she is also Associate Faculty in the Sarah Parker Remond Centre for the Study of Racism and Racialisation. She researches the interplay of science and technology, critical race and postcolonial studies, and sociological realism in modern and contemporary literature. She has published articles and chapters in The Sociological Review, Journal of Literature and Science, Medical Humanities, Journal of Historical Geography, and in The Palgrave Handbook of Twentieth and Twenty-First Century Literature and Science. Her book, Narrative in the Age of the Genome (2021), considers measures of the human in genomic narratives.