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The new trial communities: challenges and opportunities in preconception cohorts

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The Excavating the Biosocial series has so far focused on birth cohorts as ethnographic object (Gibbon and Pentecost 2020). In this post, I explore the expansion of interest in the early life period, particularly for Developmental Origins of Health and Disease (DOHaD) research, to include ‘the preconception period.’ Recently, interest in this period has produced new kinds of trial communities …

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Becoming Intergenerational in Birth Cohorts: kinship and the remaking of participation

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In recent years birth cohorts have become an invaluable context, resource, tool and ‘technology’ of an emerging terrain of biosocial science, given the unique opportunity they provide to study how the life course is intergenerationally shaped. As many contributors for this series have highlighted, the what and how of biological and social transmission between kin are of central concern in …

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Birth cohorts, biosocial theory, and the politics of developmental disruption

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How and with what consequences do young people push up against standardized views of “normal” and “healthy” development? To what extent can young people’s attempts to disrupt developmental norms be understood as political acts? I became intrigued by these questions while conducting long-term ethnographic research with a subset of young participants in the 1982 birth cohort study in Pelotas, Southern …

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Epistemic and Temporal Disjunctions: (Re)Mapping “Suicide Risk” Epigenetics Through Birth Cohorts

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The McGill Group for Suicide Studies (MGSS) has garnered significant attention for its epigenetic models of suicide risk. These models suggest that early life adversity may set people on pathways of neurobiological vulnerability and, ultimately, suicide risk, which are correlated with distinctive epigenetic traits. While the core of this epigenetic and neuroscientific research is carried out on the donated brains …

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How should we study intergenerational trauma? Reflections on a 30-year birth cohort study in Soweto, South Africa

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My parents immigrated to the United States from South Korea in the late 80’s in search of political stability and socioeconomic opportunity. While they did not come with much money or many belongings, as children of survivors of Japanese colonialism and the Korean War, my parents brought with them the heavy burdens of historical trauma from militarized occupation and their …

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Human Placenta, Birth Cohorts, and the Production of Epigenetic Knowledge

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Precious Material

Over the past decade, the Canadian university-based Epigenetics Lab has become increasingly central to the production of knowledge about human health and development.[1] During my first visit there, Daniel, one of three technicians in the lab, is visibly stressed. He apologizes for not being more relaxed. He has been up all night worried about a shipment of …

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