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Comptes Rendus De L Academie Des Sciences Serie III-Sciences De La Vie-Life Sciences


During the early 20th century the diverse practices of genetics were unified by the concept of the gene. This classical gene was simultaneously a unit of structure, function, mutation, and recombination. Starting in the 1940s, however, the classical gene began to fragment. Today when we speak of a gene for some malady, a regulatory gene, a structural gene, or a gene frequency, it is entirely possible that we are deploying different gene concepts even though we are using the same term. The problem of the gene addresses the fragmentation of the classical gene concept by asking to what extent a comprehensive and unifying gene concept is possible or desirable. Fully comprehensive gene concepts seem untenable today, but, within different disciplinary domains, unifying, but non-comprehensive, gene concepts can be epistemically worthwhile. The problem of the gene persists, however, not because of its epistemic value, but because of its political value. Using both the arguments for newly proposed gene concepts and the historical dispute over the classical gene, I argue that the desirability of gene concepts rests in part on the political ramifications of their deployment and contestation.

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