Psychiatric Genetics : From Hereditary Madness to Big Biology book cover
1st Edition

Psychiatric Genetics
From Hereditary Madness to Big Biology

ISBN 9781138999985
Published February 21, 2019 by Routledge
234 Pages

SAVE ~ $31.00
was $155.00
USD $124.00

Prices & shipping based on shipping country


Book Description

Psychiatric genetics has become ‘Big Biology’. This may come as a surprising development to those familiar with its controversial history. From eugenic origins and contentious twin studies to a global network of laboratories employing high-throughput genetic and genomic technologies, biological research on psychiatric disorders has become an international, multidisciplinary assemblage of massive data resources. How did psychiatric genetics achieve this scale? How is it socially and epistemically organized? And how do scientists experience this politics of scale?

Psychiatric Genetics: From Hereditary Madness to Big Biology develops a sociological approach of exploring the origins of psychiatric genetics by tracing several distinct styles of scientific reasoning that coalesced at the beginning of the twentieth century. These styles of reasoning reveal, among other things, a range of practices that maintain an extraordinary stability in the face of radical criticism, internal tensions and scientific disappointments.

The book draws on a variety of methods and materials to explore these claims. Combining genealogical analysis of historical literature, rhetorical analysis of scientific review articles, interviews with scientists, ethnographic observations of laboratory practices and international conferences, this book offers a comprehensive and detailed exploration of both local and global changes in the field of psychiatric genetics.

Table of Contents


1. From ‘Hereditary Madness’ to Psychiatric Genetics

2. The Birth of Psychiatric Genetics

3. The Rhetoric of Complexity

4. Inside ‘Big Biology’

5. Drowning in Data

6. On the Road: Collecting Bloods and Stories

7. Scientific Imaginaries and Their Publics

8. Big Biology Then and Now

Conclusion: Big Biology and Scientific Revolutions

View More



Michael Arribas-Ayllon is a senior lecturer in the School of Social Sciences at Cardiff University. His research interests are in the sociology of genetic knowledge, histories of biomedicine, applications of genetic testing, medical communication and professional decision-making.

Andrew Bartlett is a sociologist working at the University of York and the University of Sheffield. He has a long-standing interest in the sociology of ‘Big Biology’ and has written papers on a range of topics in the sociology of science, including the interdisciplinarity of bioinformatics, the organization and publics of psychiatric genetics, and social issues with regard to genome editing.

Jamie Lewis is a lecturer in Sociology in the School of Social Sciences at Cardiff University. His research interests coalesce around the sociology of science and technology studies (STS), public understanding of science (PUS) and medical sociology. He has published papers on bioinformatics, psychiatric genetics, stem cell research and public engagement.


"In this detailed and wide-ranging ethnographic study, Arribas-Ayllon et al provide an insightful exploration of the reorganization of infrastructures and expertise in psychiatric genetics. Their analysis of the distribution of value and emotional, boundary and engagement work across scientific hierarchies is particularly rich. Demonstrating how the relative immobility of more marginalised actors functions as a necessary condition for scaled up biology, this important book invites the scientific and academic community to look again at how reward should be distributed in the era of Big Biology."

- Anne Kerr, Professor of Sociology, University of Leeds

"Arribas-Ayllon, Bartlett, and Lewis’s book invites us to follow them through the revolving doors and glassy atriums of a new science centre to consider the changing ways in which psychiatric genetics is taking place. Their work is a rich introduction to the spaces this discipline now occupies within the epistemologies of medical psychiatry, the interdisciplinary university campus, and the genetic infrastructures of global science. It both situates psychiatric genetics as particular form of inquiry, assembled from genealogies of clinical, statistical, and laboratory reasoning, as well as demonstrating how this is articulated through a wider network of affective relations and imaginaries circulating within research publications, patient involvement activities, and public engagement events. The effect is to render the complex processes that constitute the contemporary geographies of big biology visible, with all of its promises and compromises. The book demonstrates the value of thinking about science through question of space, scale, and speed. It is also timely too, as the unresolved tensions at the heart of psychiatric genetics continue to generate new scientific inquiry and social controversy in the search for the biological causes of psychiatric disorders."

- Gail Davies, Professor in Human Geography, University of Exeter

"This book eloquently chronicles how the merger of mental health and heredity aligned itself with existing big biologies. As a consequence, the organisation of its consortia, the scale of its inquiries and the governance of its knowledge-making became increasingly relevant for understanding the development of Psychiatric Genetics, something Arribas-Ayllon, Bartlett and Lewis have understood very well. This book makes for great reading, especially for those interested in the intersections of the governance of science and critical sociology."

- Bart Penders, Assistant Professor in Biomedicine and Society, Maastricht University

"Against the background of the historic Human Genome Project and the contemporary Human Brain Project, this fascinating book turns to the scaling-up of psychiatric genetics. Opening the door to one of the UK’s largest research centres in this field, the authors show us the new state-of-the-art building and its scientists, attending to its history, the labour and infrastructuring involved, including interactions with patients and publics. Together they tell a comprehensive, multi-faceted story of the emergence of a specific type of Big Biology, emphasising how the organisation of research is key to what we know and how we understand ourselves."

- Niki Vermeulen, Senior Lecturer in History/Sociology of Science, The University of Edinburgh

"What does the reconfiguration of psychiatric genetics into ‘Big Biology’ mean for scientists, knowledge-production, and the circulation of substances, data, and capital? Arribas-Ayllon, Bartlett, and Lewis investigate these issues (and more) through close genealogical, rhetorical, and ethnographic research, exploring the styles of scientific reasoning underpinning psychiatric genetics. They brightly illuminate the challenges and opportunities that come with new kinds of collaboration, technological processing, and epistemic imaginaries – and the wider consequences of these for biomedicine and society."

- Martyn Pickersgill, Wellcome Trust Reader in Social Studies of Biomedicine, The University of Edinburgh