chapter  9
23 Pages

Decoding relations and disease

The Icelandic Biogenetic Project
WithGísli Pálsson

This chapter discusses the mapping concepts and strategies employed by deCode Genetics and the Icelandic Biogenetic Project for the purpose of tracing the genetic background of a number of common diseases. I discuss two kinds of mapping involving, respectively, genealogical and genetic data. Each of the two mapping cultures of genealogists and human geneticists, I argue, has its own discourses and trajectories. Collectively, however, the cartographies of genomes and genealogies illustrate the intensification of the medical gaze (Foucault 1973) with the development of biotechnology and the “medicalization of kinship” (Finkler 2000). A series of images, “Birthmarks,” by the Icelandic artist Katrín Sigurbardóttir nicely capture some aspects of these developments (see Figure 9.1). Significantly, these images reproduce pre-natal signatures, the artist’s own birthmarks, as geographical maps with spatial scales and contours. Also, they represent tiny fragments of the body as islands, echoing the notion of boundedness couched in much of the imagery associated with the Icelandic gene pool and genealogy. At the same time, they underline the seriousness of ongoing Icelandic debates on the representation and commodification of the “national” body and the tension between individual and collective concerns.