Title page for ETD etd-12302002-135320

Type of Document Dissertation
Author Russell, Mark C.
URN etd-12302002-135320
Title Heredity and the Human Condition: A Study of 20th Century Genetic Accounts of Alcoholism
Degree PhD
Department Science and Technology Studies
Advisory Committee
Advisor Name Title
Pitt, Joseph C. Committee Chair
Burian, Richard M. Committee Member
Fuhrman, Ellsworth R. Committee Member
Jones, Kathleen W. Committee Member
La Berge, Ann F. Committee Member
  • George Archdall Reid
  • developmental systems theory
  • alcoholism
  • behavior genetics
  • darwinian medicine
Date of Defense 2002-11-22
Availability unrestricted
This dissertation takes as its starting point some curious historical parallels in research on the heritability of alcoholism from opposite ends of the 20th century, and the underlying continuity in assumptions implicated by these parallels. Rather than review mainstream historical narratives on the origins of genetic research and alcoholism studies, I examine evidence and developments as yet unexplored by scholars. First I examine the origins of recent research models and diagnostic criteria that provide evidence for the hereditary nature of alcoholism. Then I consider the assumption of genetic determinism and its relationship to strategies of propaganda employed by the Eugenics movement early in the century. Using these historical "snapshots" I draw out conceptual and philosophical problems with the genetic explanation of alcoholism that continue to confront researchers today. These limitations suggest two possible avenues of resolution: either we develop finer-grained strategies for distinguishing social deviance from physical disorders, or we develop an integrated understanding of the complex interplay of human biological and cultural systems by extending the approach known as Developmental Systems Theory. In the conclusion, I explore these options and their potential ramifications for our understanding of alcoholism in hereditary and human contexts.
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