Cover of Social by Nature by Catherine Bliss
Social by Nature
The Promise and Peril of Sociogenomics
Catherine Bliss


January 2018
312 pages.

Cloth ISBN: 9780804798341



Sociogenomics has rapidly become one of the trendiest sciences of the new millennium. Practitioners view human nature as the result of genetic and social factors, and some say that our genes can determine a wide range of personality traits and life outcomes. However, the claim that genetic similarities cause groups of people to behave in similar ways is not new. In Social by Nature, Catherine Bliss exposes the shocking parallels between sociogenomics and long-discredited sciences that reduce human nature to a mere sequence of genes.

Over the last decade, sociogenomics has enjoyed a largely uncritical rise to prominence and acceptance in popular culture. Researchers have published a stream of studies showing that things like educational attainment, gang membership, and life satisfaction are encoded in our DNA long before we say our first word. What's strange is that, unlike the racial debates over IQ scores in the '70s and '90s, sociogenomics has not received any major backlash. In the midst of the global charge for interdisciplinary research, Bliss recognizes the promise of this young science. But she reminds us that its current emphasis on genetic inheritance perpetuates a narrow view of human identity, and that a dark history of eugenics cautions us to question its implications for the future.

By tracing the history of sociogenomics' emergence onto the global stage, Bliss makes a powerful case for researchers to approach their work in more socially responsible ways. This is a must-read for anyone who wants to critically engage in scholarship that impacts how we see ourselves and our society.

About the authors

Catherine Bliss is Assistant Professor of Sociology at the University of California, San Francisco. She is the author of Race Decoded: The Genomic Fight for Social Justice (Stanford, 2012), which won the Oliver Cromwell Cox Book Award from the American Sociological Association.

"An impressive, timely, and critically important book and the first scholarly work to take stock of what the genomics turn means for the social sciences. With uncommon interpretive clarity and dazzing interdisciplinary range, Bliss takes us behind the scenes of the emergent field of sociogenomics. Social by Nature forcefully reveals how genetic social science may share a genealogy with earlier eugenics research—even if unwittingly—and urgently points us to the dangers that may arise from this twenty-first century attempt to link deeply-complex social concerns to narrow genetic causes."

—Alondra Nelson, Columbia University

"After an intensive five-year study of the field of social genomics, Catherine Bliss has produced a brilliant analysis of this rapidly burgeoning field. Social by Nature is an essential guide for those concerned about the growing application of genomic methodology to the study of psychosocial traits, especially its applications in the areas of criminal justice and education. This book is a landmark in its field."

—Henry Louis Gates, Jr., Harvard University