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

Egenis · People

Dr. Paula Saukko

Senior Research Fellow


MSocSci (Tampere), PhD (Illinois)


My educational and professional background is in communication and cultural studies. Partly as a consequence of my disciplinary background, my research has focused on the interaction between an individual's experience of her body/self and institutional discourses and practices (medicine, the media) and social regimes and contexts.

In Egenis my research focused on the social implications of information about genetic susceptibilities to common complex diseases (Egenis Theme 3). I have led, with multidisciplinary teams, a series of projects that have investigated patient experiences of a low risk susceptibility to deep vein thrombosis, discussions in an online group for individuals with thrombophilia, patient interpretations of family history of heart disease and marketing, media and public health discourses on "nutrigenomics". Two of these projects have been funded from the Egenis core-grant, for the two other I have been awarded funding from the Wellcome Trust and the Department of Health (see below).

I also have a long-term interest in qualitative methodologies that investigate links between microlevel experiences and institutional and political macrostructures, and I have written a book on exploring these links. I have also conducted research on the diagnostic discourses on anorexia, on the historical underpinnings of those discourses and how they are lived by women diagnosed with an eating disorder.

I have a first degree in journalism (Tampere, Finland, 1991), and after completing it I worked for a few years as a professional journalist. I then moved to the States to do my PhD in communications research (Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, USA, 1999). Subsequently I worked as a lecturer in communications at the University of Leicester for four years. I came to Egenis in 2003.

I moved on to take up the post of a Senior Lecturer in Sociology at the Department of Social Sciences, Loughborough University, in October 2007.

Research Projects:

Complex risks and testing for genetic thrombophilia: a case study on genes and common disease

Patient interpretations of family history in evaluating the risk of heart disease in general practice

The use of family history in the risk assessment and primary prevention of heart disease (Department of Health funded project)

Claims-making in nutrigenomics: An policy-driven analysis of marketing and media (Wellcome Trust funded project)

Research Interests

At Egenis my research focused on the social implications of genetic information about susceptibilities to common, complex diseases. It is suggested that detecting common susceptibilities to disease and offering individuals preventive advice and medications to stave off, for example, cardiovascular disease will engender significant public health benefits. However, as these technologies are barely emerging there is hardly any research on how individuals interpret and react to them.

My first project in Egenis focused on patient experiences of genetic testing for a low risk susceptibility to deep vein thrombosis (DVT) in primary and secondary care. I also conducted an e-ethnography on an online support group for individuals with thrombophilia. I then developed a small qualitative research project on risk communication between patients and primary care doctors and nurses on family history of heart disease in the context of overall assessment of coronary heart disease (CHD) risk. This project led to a trial (with a nested qualitative study) on the usefulness of incoporating family history into CHD risk assessment and primary prevention (funded by the Department of Health). I am currently also leading a project on public discourses on the interaction between genomic variation and nutrition, including marketing of commerical nutrigenomic screens.

My other major area of interest is qualitative methodology. I have published a string of articles and a book (Doing Research in Cultural Studies, Sage 2003) on multi-perspectival methodological approaches that combine a hermeneutic interest in lived realities, poststructuralist analyses of discourses that mediate our understanding of our experiences and the reality and a contextualist analysis of social, political and economic structures that shape both lives and discourses. I am particularly interested in ‘new’ methodological approaches, such as new ethnography, poststructuralist modes of inquiry and multi-sited ethnography. I am also interested in self-reflexive methodological approaches, which mediate between evaluating various risk assessments and, at the same time, conducting critical participant observation on how these assessment and associated technologies are designed.

My previous topical research project focused on diagnostic discourses on anorexia, and I have examined the historical underpinnings of those discourses and the way in which they have been mobilized by media and lived by women diagnosed with an eating disorder. I completed a monograph (The Anorexic Self, SUNY, in press) based on this research.