The Institute for Society and Genetics is unique among American institutions as a platform for teaching and research about problems at the intersection of biology and society. ISG fully integrates medical and life science researchers with those working in social sciences, history, humanities, ethics, and policy. Faculty have training in disciplines of genetics, history, bioethics, medicine, religion, anthropology, evolutionary biology, sociology, biochemistry, genetic counseling, public health, and science and technology studies. Our research and teaching involves diverse research questions and innovative methods for studying a range of problems that are simultaneously biological, biochemical, social, and political: topics as diverse as antibiotic resistance, endocrine-disrupting chemicals, reproductive technologies, human/animal relations, indigenous knowledge sovereignty, scientific racism, histories of biotechnology, and the naturalization of police and carceral violence. Our world class faculty are well funded and extremely productive, publishing research articles and books in leading venues, and receiving prestigious global and national awards and media attention. Commitments to diversity, inclusion, equity, and antidiscrimination are woven deeply into all aspects of ISG activities, from professional training and national and campus service, to the content and practice of pedagogy and mentorship, to faculty research programs.
The ISG originated as the Center for the Individual, Society and Genetics in 2001 approximately twenty years ago as an initiative by then Chancellor Albert Carnesale to be an academic center devoted to the investigation of the social, cultural, ethical, and policy considerations spawned by the Human Genome Project. Its name was changed to the Center for Society and Genetics prior to its institutionalization as a UCLA Center for Interdisciplinary Instruction (CII) in 2008. The name was updated to Institute for Society and Genetics in 2012 to distinguish it from smaller centers and interdepartmental programs at UCLA.
The Institute has a robust undergraduate educational program consisting of the Human Biology and Society major (BS/BA) and the Society and Genetics minor. Many problems facing society today, from antibiotic resistance to endocrine-disrupting chemical pollution, from reproductive technologies to obesity, are simultaneously biological, biochemical, social, and political. The Human Biology and Society Major educates the next generation of students to understand and solve complex problems at the interface of biology and society. Students are allowed the freedom to draw on coursework in the life and human sciences across UCLA, while accessing an integrative core of courses required of all majors. Students thereby gain knowledge in traditional scientific disciplines, while also developing a social and cultural perspective by acquiring skills of social scientific research and humanistic analysis. The integrative core provides the skill sets students need to navigate between different ways of knowing, enabling them to understand often disparate methods for studying life and society. The Society and Genetics minor exposes students to a similar framework, but with a shorter program more focused on the entanglement of society and genetics. Our academic programs aim to produce flexible thinkers and talented translators across traditional disciplinary boundaries. The major and the minor prepare students to be informed citizens, critical consumers, and creative researchers in a world where scientific knowledge, biological concepts, and health claims are part of the political and economic fabric of everyday life.
The Institute for Society and Genetics provides a platform for generating collaboration on shared problems across disciplines. As humanity comes to terms with the biological consequences of modernization and industrialization, it is up to all of us, across the disciplines, to think anew about human well-being. ISG scholars are concerned with the social dimensions of biology, medicine, and biotechnology: the ways they are social from the beginning in their framing, conceptualization, conduct, distribution, and impacts and how they transform society, social relations, identities, bodies, and possibilities of life. The vision for ISG is to use our faculty’s expertise and creativity to generate research in response to a range of pressing social imperatives that traditional configurations of the life sciences are ill-equipped to respond to: New biological and biomedical technologies in new economic forms; changing configurations of infectious pathogens and chronic diseases, often driven by social practices and infrastructures; and destruction and anthropogenic remaking of the environments of all life, including microbial, plant, animal, and human. The tools of the human and social sciences must therefore be creatively mobilized within and in concert with biological and biomedical research. Scientific and social outcomes of the historical forces of socioeconomic, racial and gender inequality cannot be dealt with if they are not analyzed and made visible. Critical, diverse, and reflexive STEM is better STEM.