1. ESRC Genomics Network (archive)
  2. Gengage
  3. The Human Genre Project

Cesagen · Research

Promising Personalized Medicine: Futures Past and Present

Richard Tutton

Start date



In the first decade of the twenty-first century, personalized medicine became a powerful vision of how medicine should be practiced in the near future. Its advocates imagine significant changes to the way that drugs are developed by industry and prescribed to patients, to the early detection and prevention of disease, and to doctor-patient interaction. We might locate the rise of personalized medicine within a broader trend of ‘biomedicalization’ (Clarke et al 2010) that entails both the stratification of patients and the customization of prevention, diagnosis and therapy. As sociologists have argued, today’s future expectations are prefigured through a long history of events, material practices and ‘past futures’. Personalized medicine is no different: while visions of a future personalized medicine are defined in opposition to the past, these visions are also prefigured by previous discourses of personalization in medicine.


This project investigates the changing expectations of personalized medicine over time. It explores the history of earlier initiatives to “personalize” medicine in the twentieth century and asks to what extent we can read contemporary visions of personalized medicine through the lens of these previous debates within medicine. The project investigates how we should read expectations about personalized medicine against the backdrop of continuing health inequalities and debates about the social, economic and geopolitical factors implicated in health. It also asks what the implications of this vision are for contemporary knowledge production, for medical intervention, and for professional expertise and training.

Specifically, the project addresses the following research questions:

  1. What sociotechnical networks are being created around visions of personalized medicine by academic and industrial scientists, clinicians, regulators, patients and consumers to bring them into being?
  2. How do visions of personalized medicine form different configurations in the different social, political and cultural contexts of the US and UK?
  3. How is the “person” in personalized medicine imagined and enacted in visions of personalized medicine?
  4. How are these visions of personalized medicine prefigured by previous debates and practices in medicine?
  5. How is personalized medicine associated with developments in healthcare practice, policy and funding?
  6. What tensions exist between the visions of personalized medicine and practices and principles of public health? And how are questions of ongoing health inequalities addressed by advocates of personalized medicine?


This project will combine analysis of secondary and primary historical sources, documentation produced by public and private institutions, and interviews of relevant scientific, regulatory, policy and industry actors.

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