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Course Information

Instructor Info:Jennifer Hamilton
Office Extension x5677
TA Info:Jennifer Su
Rebecca Chappell
Term: 2013F
Meeting Info: Wednesday
02:30 PM - 05:20 PM Franklin Patterson Hall (FPH) 104

Do you own your body? Who has the right to profit from your genetic materials?  Does testing for genetic diseases on embryos before implantation constitute eugenics?  Should one company own a patent on a genetic test for breast cancer?  These questions, among others, provide the basis for an exploration of the emergence and growth of bioethics in the context of genetic research (and for the growth of genetics in the context of bioethics).  Using perspectives from legal studies, ethics, anthropology, and the social studies of science, this course takes as its starting point the investigation of the close relationships and continuing tensions that have developed between the fields of genetics and bioethics in the post-WWII era.  In the first part of the course, we will focus on locating what has been termed the “post-genomic age”—the period following the mapping of the human genome in 2000—and explore how ethical issues have been (re)defined in this era.  We will then look at a variety of ethical debates with particular attention not only to how the ethical itself has been framed in relation to the life sciences, but also to the larger cultural, political, and economic contexts that shape the fields themselves.

One social science course (or equivalent) or permission of the instructor.  Students should expect a heavy reading load and weekly written assignments.

Support for the development of this course generously provided by the Five College Culture, Health, and Science (CHS) Program.  For more information about CHS including requirements for the Five College Certificate, see

Cumulative Skills: Writing and Research, Multiple Cultural Perspectives, Independent Work

Course Objectives:
  • To introduce students to the following substantive areas: bioethics; cultural/medical anthropology; social studies of science; and legal studies
  • To introduce students to qualitative ethnographic methods and social scientific research methods
  • To help students to build and improve skills in critical reading and writing
  • To challenge students to develop new perspectives and to expand their skills of critical thinking
  • To enable students to design and implement independent project-based work
Evaluation Criteria:

Final evaluations will focus on the following areas:

  • Effort, especially willingness to challenge oneself
  • Attendance, preparation, and participation
  • Skills development especially in critical reading and writing
  • Quality of written work and attention to detail
  • Individual improvement throughout the semester
Additional Info:


Students are expected to come to class prepared with questions and comments.  Depending on the complexity of the material, sometimes I will give a brief lecture, but most of our time together will be based in discussion.  Students are required to complete all assigned readings, but I have also made a range of supplementary materials available.  You are free to read these based on your needs and interests and to use these as part of your project proposal assignment.


  • Participation
  • Class Notes (for all assigned readings)
  • Critical Reaction Papers (4)
  • Short Papers (4)
  • Mapping Bioethics in a Post-Genomic Age Group Project/Individual Write-Up
  • Self-Evaluation
  • Online Course Portfolio

Unless otherwise indicated, all assignments must be uploaded electronically to Moodle. I will not accept hard copies of assignments.



Some of our readings come from texts you are expected to purchase or borrow (T) and some of them are available online (O) for printing.  Required texts are available for purchase in the Hampshire College Bookstore.  Copies of required texts will also be made available on reserve in the Johnson Library and, if you prefer, you may make copies from reserve books.  Some texts may be available electronically through e-brary.  If so, the URLs are noted below and on Moodle.  Please remember that others may also be using the hard copies of texts, so return them to the library promptly.  I will also compile a PDF with all online (O) readings in one document.  You can print this out yourself or take it to the Duplication Center (ground floor of the library) for printing.


Because the course is text-based, and we will often reference the text during the class period, it is imperative that you have either the text itself or a copy of the reading with you.  It is not sufficient to “read” the text online and come to class.  You must have the readings and your notes.  If you prefer, you may purchase the texts for e-readers like Kindle or Nook; I will look for evidence that you have read the text on your e-reader, so you must have it with you for class.  Texts, like tuition, room and board, are a part of the cost of college and are not optional.  If you are having trouble obtaining course texts for any reason, please speak to me as soon as possible in private.  The following texts are required for our course:

Atwood, Margaret

            2004    Oryx and Crake: A Novel. New York: Anchor Books.

Haraway, Donna

            2008    When Species Meet. Minneapolis, MN: Minnesota University Press.

Holloway, Karla F. C.

            2011    Private Bodies, Public Texts: Race, Gender, and a Cultural Bioethics. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

Montoya, Michael J.

            2011    Making the Mexican Diabetic: Race, Science, and the Genetics of Inequality. Berkley: University of California Press.

Rapp, Rayna

            1999    Testing Women, Testing the Fetus: The Social Impact of Amniocentesis in America. New York: Routledge.

Skloot, Rebecca

            2010    The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. New York: Crown Publishers.

A Note on Buying Texts

Students are legitimately concerned about the rising costs of higher education and often see textbooks as yet another (seemingly unnecessary) cost.  But texts are key to learning, and you must have them in order to do your work in the course. Most of these texts have affordable used copies readily available through merchants like and the Hampshire College Bookstore; most of them are also available in electronic editions for e-readers like Kindle or Nook.  They are also available either on electronic reserve (e-brary) or on course reserve at the Library.  There might also be additional copies of many of these texts in the Five College Library system.  You should also let me know (in private) if you are having trouble affording your books.