Social inequalities and biological capital, Séminaire par Paolo Vineis le 24 juin 2019 à 11h00
Imperial College London
Biography and Biological Capital
Seminar at INSERM, Paris 24 June 2019
Epidemiology is at the cross-roads between social and natural sciences. This is particularly evident when we consider social inequalities in health. However, there is still a wide gap between the two fields, both methodologically and conceptually. Natural sciences focus in particular on biological mechanisms and outcomes, i.e. they deal with “zoe”, the biological life, while social sciences have to do with “bios”, the biographical life, according to the terminology used by Ronald Dworkin. It is obvious that what we epidemiologists try to do is to connect zoe and bios in a meaningful way, though this attempt has rarely been made explicit, except e.g. in the work of Nancy Krieger through the concept of “embodiment”.
But there is another way – more practical – we can look at the relationships between social and natural sciences, that is the transfer of epidemiological knowledge into the concept of “biological capital” in addition to the better known economic, social and cultural capital. The French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu, in particular, has explained the role of social and cultural capital in the functioning of societies and in social inequality. Like “the social world is accumulated history” (Pierre Bourdieu), so is the individual life at any particular time/age: it is the accumulated history of all economic, social, cultural and eventually biological experiences that had an impact on the body. Biology and biography meet for example through health status, depending on social position at a given age. These principles start to be incorporated into epidemiological research, via the integration of social contexts and biomarkers in a life-course approach, as we have done in the Lifepath consortium. The results from analyses carried out within Lifepath show that the socioeconomic environment, from early life and over the lifecourse, is an important risk factor for health and partly works through its effects on biological mechanisms. My proposal is to add also the concept of biological capital to those of economic, social and cultural capital.