CFP: Workshop – The Establishment of Genetic Counseling in the Second Half of the 20th Century

February 2-3, 2016, Berlin, Germany

Call for papers

The rapid development of molecular genetics in the 1950s not only led to the establishment of human genetics as a separate discipline, it also fundamentally changed the thinking about disease and health. Genetics became indispensable for studying the causation, formation, and development of diseases. Yet, because of the low potential for an actual cure of genetic diseases, genetic counseling received special significance as “the most immediate and practical service that genetics can render in medicine and surgery,” according to the WHO Expert Committee on Human Genetics in 1964. Genetic counseling centers were set up throughout the world, although unevenly distributed. The reasons for why people sought counseling varied considerably – from evaluating the risk of having a child with Down’s Syndrome to detecting the sickle cell gene.

The aim of the workshop is to bring together researchers in the history of medicine or science, in disability studies, cultural anthropology and other related fields in order to analyze global, national, and local factors that influenced the establishment of genetic counseling and shaped its further development. Both explorations of the concrete implementation of genetic counseling and examinations of its effects on society are of interest. We welcome lectures on particular countries, institutions, and persons as well as comprehensive topics, such as the entanglement of laboratory practices and genetic counseling, or the relationship of the women’s rights movement(s) and genetic counseling.

The following questions could be addressed:
•    How did genetic counseling become established in countries of the “First,”      “Second,” or “Third World,” and against the backdrop of the Cold War and North-South conflict?
•    What was the role of national and international scientific networks at the time?
•    How was genetic counseling integrated into particular health care systems?
•    Which traditions in genetic counseling did human geneticists follow? From which did they distance themselves, in particular in regards to National Socialism?
•    What did the practice of genetic counseling look like?
•    Which strategies were deployed to popularize it?
•    Was there criticism of and/or protest against genetic counseling, and which were the driving forces?

The conference language will be English. The organizer plans a publication of the contributions. Participants are invited to send their abstracts of up to 500 words and a short CV to by May 17, 2015

Provided that funding can be secured for the workshop, travel and accommodation will be covered.

Deadline: May 17, 2015

Posted: April 25, 2015