The new genetics and professional identities in international context




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Department of Sociology, University of Goteburg, Sweden


Book chapter

Peer reviewed


This paper is concerned with the formation of and processes of changes in professional identities, especially those professional groups associated with the new genetics, be they learned scientific professions, clinicians and public health doctors, or genetic counsellors. In examining these issues it refers especially to those working with single gene disorders such as cystic fibrosis, Tay-Sachs disease, and in particular with those working with inherited haemoglobin disorders, namely the thalassaemias and sickle cell disorders. The latter raise some unique issues as they primarily affect populations in the developing world and minority ethnic groups in North Europe and North America.

The paper also draws upon two theoretical ideas, one representing a strategy for social research (the notion of resource maps, proposed by Derek Layder), the other emphasising the creativity of identity formation (the concept of fateful moments, introduced by Anthony Giddens) which are introduced below. The varying levels at which identity may be influenced are then considered in turn. These include first, the global and nation-state contexts. Second, they include the more local but still collective contexts such as structures of communities, organisational features, and aggregates of social differentiation such as gender and ethnicity. Third, the level of interpersonal communication and interaction is considered. And finally the biographical life history and level of ontological security is briefly discussed. The transitions of professional identity, it is argued in conclusion, need to be sought at all these levels, though the extent to which it is possible to adequately apprehend each level simultaneously remains uncertain.



sociology, identity, fateful moments, resource maps, sickle cell, thalassaemia


Dyson, S. (1999) The new genetics and professional identities in international context. In: I. Hellberg, M. Saks, and C. Benoit, eds. Professional identities in transition: cross-cultural dimensions. Goteburg: Department of Sociology, University of Goteburg. pp. 329-345.


Research Institute

Institute for Allied Health Sciences Research