Susceptibility Genes and the Question of Embodied Identity

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Abstract

Drawing on an assumption of the co-construction of the material and the social, late-onset Alzheimer’s disease (AD) is used as an illustrative example to assess claims for an emergent figure of the “individual genetically at risk.” Current medical understanding of the genetics of AD is discussed, followed by a summary of media and AD society materials that reveal an absence of gene hype in connection with this disease. Excerpts from interviews with first-degree relatives of patients diagnosed with AD follow. Interviewees hold complex theories of causation. After genetic testing they exhibit few if any subjective changes in embodied identity or lifestyle. Family history is regarded by interviewees as a better indicator of future disease than is genetic testing. We argue that, even when molecular genetics are better understood, predictions about complex disease based on genotyping will be fraught with uncertainty, making problematic the concept of individuals as genetically at risk when applied to late-onset complex disease.