The Value of an Open Future: Ability, Talent Identification & Genetic Determinism (2006)


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Rich, E. & Miah, A. (2006) The Value of an Open Future: Ability, Talent Identification & Genetic DeterminismSport, Education & Society, 11(3), 259-273.

Our conclusions have particular relevance given the recent statement developed by WADA in its Stockholm Declaration (2005). Moreover, the recent inquiry into ‘Human Enhancement Technologies in Sport’ launched by the British Government Science and Technology Select Committee (2006) raises questions about how enhancing technologies are characterised. In the context of genetic testing, enhanced athletes could emerge simply by selecting positively for more efficient genetic capacities. Yet, there is no regulatory framework for such use despite the recent discouragement from WADA. We argue that genetic testing for performance can transform the way that ability is understood, measured and evaluated within the curriculum. We would draw a cautionary note that when read uncritically, the notions of ability underpinning such genetic testing can lead to forms of determinism which may become yet another way in which we monitor, regulate and measure children. Such forms of monitoring, regulating and surveying the body can be problematic for many young people, as is the case with practices around weight loss, physical activity and health in schools, currently associated with an ‘obesity epidemic’ (see Evans et al., 2004; Rich et al., 2004; Gard & Wright, 2005; Rich, 2005). This has led to the emergence of new orthodoxies within the school curriculum, relating to the body (size, shape), health and self (Evans et al., 2004), which can ironically do a great deal of damage to the embodied identities and health of the young people it targets.

Indeed, our case embodies the challenge alluded to by Delanty (2002) whose radical constructivist view on the new genetics warns of the vulnerability of social critiques on genetics to the power of technological determinism His urging for less dualism on society and nature helps to situate our debate in the context of contested definitions of ability and the practices within which these definitions are played out. The ways in which genetic testing might come to feature as a normalised and legitimate tool for differentiation may compromise what can be asserted as a young person’s right to an open future (Feinberg, 1980) in relation to physical activity opportunities and their rights as learners. As such, we suggest that, at most, genetic tests should be used as a way of shaping advice about training rather than influencing the kind of sport a child decides to undertake. However, our proposal requires the athlete and coach to put aside the primacy of results as a core determinant of investment into talent."