Historical trauma and the politics of epigenetic hope in Indigenous Australia

Historical trauma and the politics of epigenetic hope in Indigenous Australia

This presentation examines the recent uptake of epigenetic discourses by Indigenous Australians. While genetics has historically been rejected by First Nation peoples around the globe, epigenetics has been embraced as it offers an explanatory framework to understand the negative health effects of intergenerational trauma. In highlighting the entanglement of environments, (maternal) bodies and place over time and across generations, epigenetics (and developmental origins of health and disease) have similarities (and differences) with Indigenous concepts of well-being and relational ontologies. The plasticity/porousness of biology and environments, and the molecular embodiment of memories and past lives is being leveraged to explain what some Indigenous scholars refer to as ‘communal wounds’. As epigenetic exposures can potentially be reversed, this science offers a ‘political economy of hope’ (Rose and Novas 2003) and legitimates calls for the right to reparation. The key question however, is whether this empowering discourse (or re-biologisation) conceals new forms of governance, furthering State justification for biopolitical intervention in Indigenous lives.

About the presenter:

Megan Warin is a social/medical anthropologist and an Australian Research Council Future Fellow in the School of Social Sciences, University of Adelaide. Megan has worked in and across a number of disciplines in Australian and UK universities, including anthropology, psychiatry and public health. She co-directs the Fay Gale Centre for Research on Gender, is a Robinson Research Institute research leader in biosocial approaches to health, and an international Fellow of the Unit for Biocultural Variation and Obesity in the Institute of Cultural and Social Anthropology at the University of Oxford. Recent work includes an examination of desire and denial in disordered eating, and unpalatable politics of obesity interventions. Her current ethnographic work in Australia is investigating the cultural and institutional processes that shape everyday food and eating practices, and how developmental perspectives on health and disease and environmental epigenetics open up new theoretical terrain between the social and life sciences, and Indigenous ways of knowing.

Date & time

Thu 18 Oct 2018, 12–1pm


Jean Martin Room, Hayon Allen Building, ANU


Megan Warin


Tim Graham


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