CALL FOR PAPERS Special Issue – Information sur les Sciences Sociales / Social Science : Epigenetics as an interdiscipline: between the social sciences and the life sciences

Invited editors:
Michel Dubois (EpiDaPo, CNRS), Séverine Louvel (IEP, Grenoble), 
 Emmanuelle Rial-Sebbag (INSERM, Toulouse).

Following the spectacular rise of epigenetic research since the early 2000s, an increasing number of social science researchers call for it to form an “interdiscipline” (Frickel, 2004) at the crossroads of life science and social science . Central to their claim is the integration into life science inquiries of social experiences such as exposure to risk, nutritional habits, stress, prejudice, and stigma.

This integration may in turn prompt the social sciences to alter their established ways of thinking about biology so as to actively contribute to the formation of emerging “biosocial” research frameworks that could explore the entanglement between biological, environmental, and social aspects of life (Dubois, Guaspare, Louvel, 2018). Despite tangible scientific progress, significant funding programs – notably the Social epigenomics research in health disparities call for tenders (NIH, 2017) – and a few recent editorial initiatives (New Genetics and Society, 2015; Sociological Review Monograph Series, 2016), many epistemological, economic, social, or political issues in epigenetics remain to be studied by the social sciences (Heil R. et al., 2017).

Does epigenetics unsettle the disciplinary boundaries between the social sciences and the life sciences that date back to the end of the 19e century? Or, in a more limited way, does it contribute to renewing part of their methods and objects? Does the prospect of informing public policy by knowledge of the epigenetic triggering of disease point out to new perspectives in public health? Can the potential transmission of epigenetic marks between generations support the mobilization of social groups and their claims towards former generations?

The aim of this special issue is to advance the social science knowledge of epigenetics and to address the consequences of epigenetics for the social sciences themselves. It will gather contributions from anthropology, law, philosophy, sociology, political science, etc. Submissions may address several kinds of issues, such as:

  1. (1)  The epistemological, conceptual, or empirical transformations induced by epigenetic research. In particular, does epigenetics displace disciplinary demarcations between the life sciences and the social sciences (Meloni, 2016)? In practical terms, does it lead to changes in scientific practices or in the organization of research, in particular pertaining to standardization, data sharing and quality control (Stevens, 2016)? Articles may for instance investigate collaborative infrastructures for epigenomic data (for instance the IHEC, International Human Epigenome Consortium) and the public policies which support them.
  2. (2)  A second type of contributions may investigate how epigenetics is changing ways of studying biological and social determinants of health – be it at the level of individuals, communities, or societies. Epigenetics suggests that daily behaviors (for examples diet), social experiences (of maternal care, trauma, or stress) and environmental exposures (toxic or positive) may have indirect effects on health (McGuinness et al, 2012). Articles may explore whether this approach to health determinants bases medical care and/or prevention and intervention policies on new principles. They may also discuss the various healthcare imperatives drawing on epigenetic research (Fournier, Poulain, 2017).
  3. (3)  A third type of expected contributions will study how social and political actors may make use of epigenetic research on the biological consequences of prejudices, in particular deprivation (for instance, lack of maternal care, Weaver et al., 2004) and discrimination. How do they draw on this scientific knowledge to define an intergenerational perspective on social and environmental justice (Olden et al. 2014), on health

equity, and on responsibility for prejudices (Rial-Sebbag et al., 2016)?

(4) Lastly, papers may jointly review several recent books making important contributions to issues addressed in the special issue – thus taking the form of critical review papers.

Abstracts (min. 500 words-max. 1 500 words) can be submitted in English or in French. They will briefly cover the four following topics: 1) Questions addressed and state of the art relevant to them; 2) Empirical material and methods; 3) Expected Results; 4) Short reference list (max. 5 references). Submissions which do not follow this format will be rejected.

Abstracts must be sent before September 1, 2018 to the three invited editors: Michel Dubois (, Séverine Louvel (, Emmanuelle Rial-Sebbag (
The invited editors will review the submitted abstracts and notify authors of rejection or acceptance to submit a full paper before September 15, 2018. Authors invited to submit a full paper (max 12000 words) will send it before March, 15, 2019. Papers will be reviewed by members of the editorial board of Social Science Information. Peer- review will be double-blinded.


Dubois, M., Guaspare, C., & Louvel, S., 2018. De la génétique à l’épigénétique : une révolution “post-génomique” à l’usage des sociologues. Revue Française de Sociologie, 59(1), pp.71-98.
Fournier T., Poulain JP, 2017, « La génomique nutritionnelle : (re)penser les liens alimentation-santé à l’articulation des sciences sociales, biomédicales et de la vie », Natures Sciences Sociétés, 25, 2, pp.111-121.

Frickel, S. 2004. Building an Interdiscipline: Collective Action Framing and the Rise of Genetic Toxicology, Social Problems, 51-2, pp.269-287.
Heil R. et al. 2017. Epigenetics, Ethical, Legal and Social Aspects, SpringerVS.
McGuinness D., Mcglynn L. M., Johnson P. C. et al., 2012, « Socio-economic status is associated with epigenetic differences in the pSoBid cohort », International journal of epidemiology, 41, 1, p. 151-160.

Meloni, M., 2016. Political biology. Science and Values in Human Heredity from Eugenetics to Epigenetics, Palgrave Macmillan.
New Genetics and Society, Epigenetics and Society, 2015. Potential, Expectations, and Criticisms, pp. 117-242, Special Issue, Volume 34.

NIH, 2017. news release, NIH establishes new research in social epigenomics to address health disparities, disparities
Olden, K., Lin, Y.-S., Gruber, D., & Sonawane, B. (2014). Epigenome: biosensor of cumulative exposure to chemical and nonchemical stressors related to environmental justice. American journal of public health, 104(10), 1816-1821.

Sociological Review Monograph Series, 2016. Biosocial Matters: Rethinking Sociology-Biology Relations in the Twenty-First Century. Volume 64, Issue 1, pages 1–283, March 2016.
Rial-Sebbag, E., Lafaye, C. G., Simeoni, U., & Junien, C. (2016). DOHaD et information épigénétique-Enjeux sociétaux. médecine/sciences, 32(1), 100-105.

Stevens, H, 2016, Haddoping the genome: the impact of bidg data tools on biology, biosocieties, 11-3, pp.352-371. Weaver, I. C. G., Cervoni, N., Champagne, F. A., D’Alessio, A. C., Sharma, S., Seckl, J. R., 2004. Epigenetic programming by maternal behavior. Nature neuroscience, 7(8), 847-854.

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