Gene-environment interaction and medical sociology

Sara Shostak*, Jeremy Freese

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

14 Scopus citations


The boundaries between sociology and biology have long been sites of tension and contestation (Anderson 1967; Pescosolido 2006).1 In part, these contestations emerge from a concern that biological accounts of the production of human difference pose a threat to sociology's defining focus on social and environmental causes of human health and social outcomes (Duster 2006). Medical sociologists have been at the vanguard of efforts to find productive modes of engagement between the social sciences and contemporary human genetics. Increasingly, these efforts center on gene-environment interaction. We consider here two domains of social scientific inquiry that address gene-environment interaction vis-à-vis health and illness. First, we discuss analyses of the social implications of research on gene-environment interaction, including studies of public understandings and beliefs about genetic and environmental causes of health and social outcomes. Second, we consider research that uses information about genetics and gene-environment interaction as a lever to reveal mechanisms of social and social psychological causation of health and illness. Taken together, this work points to the importance of moving past the assumption of an essential tension between genetic and social (or other environmental) explanations for health and illness toward more integrative analyses that can encompass multiple and simultaneous forms of causation, including the "looping effects" (Hacking 1995) of genetic categories and the enduring influence of fundamental causes of health and illness, especially as capacities for intervention change (Link and Phelan 1995; Freese and Lutfey, forthcoming).

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationHandbook of Medical Sociology, Sixth Edition
PublisherVanderbilt University Press
Number of pages17
ISBN (Print)9780826517203
StatePublished - Dec 1 2010

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Social Sciences


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