Settler colonialism and its epigenetics: Megan Warin, Emma Kowal, Maurizio Meloni, ‘Indigenous Knowledge in a Postgenomic Landscape: The Politics of Epigenetic Hope and Reparation in Australia’, Science, Technology & Human Values, 2019


Abstract: A history of colonization inflicts psychological, physical, and structural disadvantages that endure across generations. For an increasing number of Indigenous Australians, environmental epigenetics offers an important explanatory framework that links the social past with the biological present, providing a culturally relevant way of understanding the various intergenerational effects of historical trauma. In this paper, we critically examine the strategic uptake of environmental epigenetics by Indigenous researchers and policy advocates. We focus on the relationship between epigenetic processes and Indigenous views of Country and health—views that locate health not in individual bodies but within relational contexts of Indigenous ontologies that embody interconnected environments of kin/animals/matter/bodies across time and space. This drawing together of Indigenous experience and epigenetic knowledge has strengthened calls for action including state-supported calls for financial reparations. We examine the consequences of this reimagining of disease responsibility in the context of “strategic biological essentialism,” a distinct form of biopolitics that, in this case, incorporates environmental determinism. We conclude that the shaping of the right to protection from biosocial injury is potentially empowering but also has the capacity to conceal forms of governance through claimants’ identification as “damaged,” thus furthering State justification of biopolitical intervention in Indigenous lives.

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