IRN TranSocGen

International Research Network on Transdisciplinary Network on Society and Genetics

IRN TranSocGen
2021 – 2025
Dr Luc Berlivet

IRN TranSocGen


Advances in genetics and genomics since the sequencing of the human genome, in the 2000s, have prompted many applications within the fields of genomic medicine, genetic genealogy, paleogenomics, forensic applications, GMOs, etc. while, at the same time, deeply renewing the theoretical analysis of evolutionary mechanisms. They gave rise to impassioned debates, oscillating between a fascination for advances presented as revolutionary and promising, and fears that sometimes referred to the dangers of the past (eugenics, racism etc.). Finally, they led to the development of numerous studies in human and social sciences, particularly in the Americas and some European countries. In France, this interest from the SHS has led to the establishment of an SHS Priority Thematic Network “Genetics and Genomic Medicine” which, since 2017, has been working to bring together researches in philosophy, sociology, anthropology and history on the recent developments in genetics and genomics.

The present international network aims to extend this effort to structure multidisciplinary SHS studies on genetics and genomics by drawing on the main poles of the French RTP (CERMES-3, SPHERE, IHPST) and by associating them with pivotal SHS research centres on epistemological and social issues in genetics/genomics in the United States (UCLA and NHGRI), Mexico (UNAM), Brazil (Fiocruz), England (King’s College London), Israel (Tel Aviv University) and South-East Asia (Nanyang Technical University, Singapore). The aim is to build on a series of pre-existing exchanges and circulation dynamics to construct a genuinely transnational and transdisciplinary perspective in SHS on the epistemological and social issues of genetics and genomics, which systematically mixes historical and epistemological, ethical, sociological and anthropological approaches. Our wish is also to articulate closely the contributions of these different disciplines and fields of research in order to overcome some limitations of current studies and to affirm four main principles:

1) the need to always take a historical perspective, while paying attention to the specificity of local contexts, in order to better understand the transformations induced by the rapid development of genomics since 1990-2000, without exaggerating their novelty and relevance.

2) the need to avoid focusing solely on human genomics, particularly medical genomics, and enlarge the analysis to the more general developments that have taken place in theoretical genetics (both at a conceptual and instrumental level), and in other fields of research, such as plant and animal genetics/genomics, or the study of genetic biodiversity, etc.

3) the rejection of a form of « westerncentrism » which leads to look at things from a North-American and, to a lesser extent, European viewpoint. this prompted us include in the analysis a wide variety of national contexts, so as to multiply the points of view, and favour an approach based on the diversity of situated contexts and the practicalities that affect the transnational circulation of knowledge;

4) the choice to include a wide range of disciplines and skills, so as to be able to analyse in detail scientific concepts, theories, and styles of thought (in dialogue with different categories of geneticists, biologists and doctors, while maintaining a critical distance from them), without ignoring the social, political and economic dimensions of genetic and genomic practices.

The network project builds on a series of pre-existing collaborations between researchers based in the different partner institutions (CNRS, Fiocruz, UCLA, Université de Paris, King’s College) and those who will be joining the network on an individual basis. It aims to structure and deepen these collaborations, while expanding our horizons by bringing Southeast Asian and Middle Eastern partners to the nework.

Main objectives

Its main objectives are:

– to create the conditions for long-lasting, intensive discussions between researchers from different disciplines and countries in order to build a common expertise around the epistemological and social issues of genetics and genomics.

– to develop a set of regular activities (seminars, workshops, sessions of international conferences) and undertake collaborative research leading to collective publications.

– to build on our collective, transdisciplinary and transnational expertise and start a critical and fruitful dialogue with geneticists (for example, within the framework of the France Genomics 2025 programme).

– to further institutionalize the emerging transnational research community on the social studies of genetics and genomics by preparing applications for grant funding (CAPES/COFECUB, UCLA/Mexico/CNRS cross-cutting agreements, Wellcome or ERC funding).

Missions and research themes

The IRN will be organised around 4 main research topics, although exchanges and cross-fertilization between the thematic groups will be systematically encouraged: members of the network will belong to two or more groups, and joint/transversal meetings will be held on a regular basis. Each group will be coordinated by members of French and foreign partner institutions.

Working Group 1. Genetics and theories of evolution: concepts, models, techniques (Resp.: P. Huneman, C-O. Doron, A. Teicher, E. Suarez).

The aims of the group will be: i) to explore the main issues in the history of theoretical population genetics since 1950 (the molecularization of the gene, neutral theory, coalescent theory, etc.) and their contributions to the development of current genomics (in terms of theory and modelling); ii) to shed light on a series of current epistemological discussions (the enhancement of stochastic processes and chance, issues relating to the processing and visualisation of massive data, etc.) and highlight their relevance to different fields such as genomic medicine, paleogenomics and plant genomics.

Working Group 2. Politics and collective identities (Resp: L. Berlivet, C-O. Doron, R. Wegner, A. Panofsky)

This group will focus on the issues genetics and genomics raise in terms of identity politics. It will explore the ways in which some collective categories (such as nation, race or ancestry) are captured and redefined through genetics and how genetics and genomics are used by individuals and groups to think about their identities and to subjectivate themselves. This group will articulate a strong historical perspective (especially by examining the history of the complex relationship between race and population genetics) and various empirical studies located in diverse contexts in terms of political issues and categories (avoiding to project a North American perspective on heterogenous situations). It will pay a strong attention to little-known uses of genomics (for example, uses by “dominant” groups in different countries). It also aims to always situate these sociopolitical issues in the context of the broader developments of genomics.

Working Group 3. Genomics: clinical ethics and social regulation (Resp: M. Gaille, G. Matta, S. Camporesi, I Löwy)

This area is dedicated to the transnational and transdisciplinary study of issues associated with the social regulation, ethical regulations especially, introduced to the clinical applications of genetics and genomics. The project will build on a “situation-based” approach, in order to explore the diversity of “local” (national or even sub-national) responses to genetic and genomic innovations.

The question of consent, in particular with regard to the legitimate uses of genetic/genomic “information” and “data”. A comparison will be made between the formal conditions imposed on the collection of consent and the professional standards in force in the different countries represented in IRN. The processes of production of medical genetic and genomic “data”, and the limitations introduced to their uses (in particular with regard to ownership, access to and sharing of data) will be analysed. Consent will be considered not only as an individual issue, but also as an object of socio-political mobilizations.

-the issue of communication between the patient/client and his/her physician on the one hand and (potentially at least) a range of third parties: parents, employers, insurers, etc. on the other hand. The probabilistic dimension of genetic risk -particularly when one goes beyond the framework of Mendelian genetics -has been further strengthened since the development of genomics, due to the difficulties of practitioners in grasping the concrete clinical significance of a considerable part of the knowledge relating to the mutations observed. Here again, we shall compare the attitudes of health professionals and the ethical and regulatory framework put in place in the various political and social contexts.

Working Group 4. Technical, economic, political and social infrastructures of genetic and genomic practices (L. Berlivet, H. Stevens, H. Landecker, V. Garcia-Deister)

The specific aim of this group is to further our understanding of contemporary or past genetic and genomic practices, by re-inserting them into the technical and institutional arrangements that underlie them. Building on the great diversity of individual and collective expertise available within in the IRN, we will analyse how the material culture of genetics and genomics is configured by a multitude of economic (intellectual property rights…), political (public policies) and social (patient associations, professional traditions…) mechanisms. The research will focus on a series of key genetic and genomic objects: tests, sequencing platforms, bio-banks, etc. considered through their configurations of use. The differences and similarities between the socio-technical arrangements on which lay the expansion of genetics and genomics in different parts of the world.

The main activities of the network over the 5 years will consist in the organization of i) 2 different kinds of webinars: one transversal, the others thematic (one per theme); ii) 2 to 3 scientific meetings per year, that will take place at the different partner institutions (thematic group meetings, joint/transversal meetings, sessions of international conferences…). These activities will translate into collective publications under the guise of special issues of scientific journals and two edited books (one in English, one in French). In addition, the IRN will further exchanges with geneticists, biologists and physicians. CNRS support will make it possible to finance a significant part of the travel costs related to these activities; the remaining part being financed by the other partner institutions.

institutions and laboratories involved

Coordinator: Luc Berlivet


Centre de Recherche Médecine, Sciences, Sante, Sante Mentale, Société (CERMES3) – UMR 8211, CNRS / INSERM/ UNIV DE PARIS
Sciences – Philosophie – Histoire (SPHERE) –  UMR 7219, CNRS / UNIV DE PARIS
Institut d’Histoire et de Philosophie des Sciences et des Techniques (IHPST) – UMR 8590, CNRS/UNIV PANTHEON-SORBONNE


Institute of Science and Technology for Humanity (NIHST), Nanyang Technological University (NTU)


Casa de Oswaldo Cruz, Fundação Oswaldo Cruz


Institute for Society and Genetics (ISG), UCLA


Grupo de Estudos de la Ciencia y la Tecnologia (GECT), Departamento de Biología Evolutiva, Facultad de Ciencias, UNAM

United Kingdom

Biotechnology and Research Cluster, Department of Global Health & Social Medicine, KCL


Zvi Yavetz School of Historical Studies& Cohn Institute for the History and Philosophy of Science and Ideas, Tel Aviv University