Photograph of Maurizio MeloniDr Maurizio Meloni

Senior Research Fellow

(PhD - University of Catania, 2004)

Telephone: 0114 222 6470 (external), 26470 (internal)
Room: Elmfield, 110


Maurizio is a social theorist working on the historical, conceptual, and political implications of the life sciences. He has held in the past two EU Marie Curie Fellowships (Nottingham), a Fulbright scholarship (Chicago), and an annual Membership (2014–2015) at the Institute for Advanced Study, School of Social Science, Princeton, USA. He has also benefited from postdoctoral visiting fellowships at the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science (Berlin), and the Bios Centre at LSE (awarded by the European Neuroscience and Society Network). Maurizio joined Sheffield in July 2015 in the context of a Leverhulme Grant on epigenetics and public policy. The Leverhulme grant explores how epigenetic knowledge is being used to understand health inequalities, explore its influence on public and policy debates, and assess its broader impact on society.


Present and Future Research

Maurizio has recently published a book “Political Biology Science and Social Values in Human Heredity from Eugenics to Epigenetics” (Palgrave, 2016) where he investigates the socio-political implications of human heredity from the second half of the nineteenth century to the present postgenomic moment. The book addresses three main phases in the politicization of human heredity: the peak of radical eugenics (1900-1945), characterized by an aggressive ethos of supporting the transformation of human society via biological knowledge; the repositioning, after 1945, of biological thinking into a liberal-democratic, human rights framework; and the present postgenomic crisis in which the genome can no longer be understood as insulated from environmental signals. Thanks to the ascendancy of epigenetics, Maurizio claims that we may be witnessing a return to soft heredity, the idea that these signals can cause changes in biology that are themselves transferrable to succeeding generations. Some reviews can be found here:

1) THE GLOBAL DIMENSION OF EPIGENETICS. Beyond what happens in English-speaking countries, Maurizio plans to look at the way in which epigenetics may reactivate older debates in public health and policy, where past environmental experiences, from psychological fear to obesity, are deemed to be transmitted through generations shaping novel biopolitical landscapes. Areas like Russia and Latin America, with a tradition of soft-hereditarian findings, may be particularly propitious sites for this investigation.

2) HOW LIFE DESTABILIZED NATURE. This is a conceptual research in which Maurizio follows and maps some recent conceptual changes in theoretical biology that have marked a radical move away from key neo-Darwinist assumptions. These novel views include: 1) a temporalization and spatialization of the genome and its functioning; 2) reticulated challenges to the notion of a universal tree of life; 3) symbiotic/processual versus individualistic/essentialist views of life; 4) related to the previous point, a new attention to microbial life and its conceptual implications. Maurizio's goal is to show that there is literally nothing in an up-to-date view of biology as the sum of life processes that can justify its equation with older metaphysics of nature, as stable, discrete, insulated, and pregiven entity. Biology (a modern word) and nature (an ancient metaphysics) have opportunistically overlapped for a certain historical period (roughly, at the peak of hard-heredity and views of genetics as immunized from social signals) but this association was historically contingent not logically determined. To define biology along the natural/social axis – grafted on the pole of nature and in opposition to social - is completely pointless today. Obviously, the destabilization of the equation biology-nature is also the dissolution of the link between nurture/sociocultural and the ‘non-biological’ or superorganic.

3) WHAT DO WE INHERIT FROM OUR PARENTS? HEREDITY AND HERITAGE, QUESTIONS IN THE HISTORY OF SOCIOLOGY. Conventional accounts in the history of sociology celebrate as the constitutional birth-act of the social sciences their break and emancipation from late nineteenth century biologistic frameworks (organicism, ‘social Darwinism’, naïve social evolutionism). However, this Whiggish reading of history leaves a point unexplained: the degree of dependence of nearly all the fathers of the sociocultural, from Durkheim to Kroeber, on certain views of the biological even when opposing and ‘breaking’ with it. The modernist work of purification of sociology was actually a cover for the proliferation of conceptual hybrids and intense transfer of knowledge. Maurizio selects one topic to challenge this dichotomous and modernist intellectual regime. Heredity (genetics) and heritage (the sociocultural) were established at the time of this work of purification as two separate professional domains, but does this leak-proof separation still hold today? Is what we inherit through our genes on a completely separate plan from what we inherit via our ‘heritage’ or even ‘inheritance’?

4) HANDBOOK OF BIOLOGY AND SOCIETY (Palgrave in preparation, coedited with J. Cromby, Leicester; D. Fitzgerald, Cardiff; and S. Lloyd, Laval): The Handbook will be an original and comprehensive addition ongoing reconsiderations of long standing dichotomies of biology/society and nature/culture. Our goal is to produce a landmark volume that will become the reference for future work on these issues. It will not just be a ‘reader’ of the existing (though much dispersed) literature on one of the most challenging and rapidly-moving fields of contemporary social scientific and scientific inquiry. We want instead to help move conversations about biology and society (or nature and culture) to a more nuanced and expansive level. The Handbook will do this by bringing together in one source the most critical and insightful scholars working in this field, and putting their contributions into dialogue with each other – within and across fields. It is divided in 6 sections: 1) History of the biology/society relationship; 2) Genetics, Postgenomics, Epigenetics and Society; 3) Neuroscience, Psychiatry and Psychology; 4) Social Epidemiology; 5) Medicine and society; and 6), Contested Sites/Future Perspectives. Each of the sections will be introduced by key figures in the field, in order to situate the chapters therein in relation to one another and identify the key issues and questions raised in the contributions. The outcome will be a strong and cohesive volume. An outstanding line up of international contributors has already adhered to the project.

For Citations and Publications of Maurizio's work:


Publications since 2005

Selected Publications

Meloni, M. 2017 “Race in an Epigenetic Time: Thinking Biology in the Plural” British Journal of Sociology. doi: 10.1111/1468-4446.12248

Meloni, M. 2017 “Disentangling Life: Darwin, Selectionism, and the Postgenomic Return of the Environment” Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part C: Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences, Vol. 62, April 2017, 10-19. doi: 10.1016/j.shpsc.2017.02.002

Meloni, M. 2016c “The Transcendence of the Social: Durkheim, Weismann and the Purification of Sociology” Frontiers in Sociology, 22 July 2016,

Meloni, M. 2016b “From Boundary-work to Boundary Object: how biology left and re-entered the social sciences”, in Biosocial Matters: Rethinking the Sociology-Biology Relations in the Twenty-First Century, edited by M. Meloni, S. Williams, P. Martin, Wiley-Blackwell.

Meloni, M. 2016a Political Biology. Science and Social Values from Eugenics to Epigenetics. London: Palgrave.

Meloni, M., Williams, S. and Martin, P. 2016 “The Biosocial: Sociological Themes and Issues” in Biosocial Matters: Rethinking the Sociology-Biology Relations in the Twenty-First Century, edited by M. Meloni, S. Williams, P. Martin, Wiley-Blackwell.

Meloni, M., Williams, S. and Martin P. (eds) 2016 Biosocial Matters: Rethinking Sociology-Biology Relations in the Twenty-First Century, Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell.

Meloni, M. 2015 “Epigenetics for the Social Sciences: Justice, Embodiment, and Inheritance in the Postgenomic Age”, New Genetics and Society, Vol. 34, No. 2, 125–151,

Meloni, M. 2014a “How Biology Became Social, and What It Means for social theory”, The Sociological Review Volume 62, Issue 3, pages 593–614

Meloni, M. 2014b “The Social Brain Meets the Reactive Genome: Neuroscience, Epigenetics and the New Social Biology”. Front. Hum. Neurosci. 8:309. [Journal Impact Factor, 2.900], words 9000:
DOI: 10.3389/fnhum.2014.00309

Meloni, M. 2014c (with Giuseppe Testa, contribution 50%) - “Scrutinizing the Epigenetics Revolution”, BioSocieties, 9: 431–456. [Journal Impact Factor, 1.405], words 12,000. doi: 10.1057/biosoc.2014.22

Meloni, M. 2014d “Biology without Biologism: Social Theory in a Postgenomic Age” Sociology, vol. 48 no. 4: 731-746 doi: 10.1177/0038038513501944

Meloni, M. - 2013 “Moralizing Biology: The Appeal and Limits of the New Compassionate View of Nature”, History of the Human Sciences 26 (3), pp. 82-106. doi: 10.1177/0952695113492163

Meloni, M. 2012 - “On the Growing Intellectual Authority of Neuroscience for Political and Moral Theory: Sketch for a Genealogy”. in Neuroscience and Political Theory: Thinking the Body Politic edited by F. Vander Valk, Routledge: London, pp.25-49

Meloni, M. 2011a - “Philosophical Implications of Neuroscience. The space for a critique” Subjectivity (special issue on Subjectivity and Neuroscience) 4, pp. 298–322. doi:10.1057/sub.2011.8

Meloni, M. 2011b - “Naturalism as an Ontology of Ourselves” Telos, 155, pp. 151-174, doi: 10.3817/0611155151

Meloni, M. 2011c - “The Cerebral Subject at the Junction of Naturalism and Anti-Naturalism” in Neurocultures. Glimpses from an Expanding Universe, edited by F. Ortega and F. Vidal. New York: Peter Lang, pp. 101-115

Editorials, Reviews, Encyclopedia Pieces, Commentaries

Meloni, M. 2016 “Scientific Racism” Blackwell Encyclopedia of Social Theory, in press

Meloni, M. 2016 “Eugenics” Blackwell Encyclopedia of Social Theory, in press

Meloni, M. 2015 “Heredity 2.0: The Epigenetics Effect” New Genetics and Society, 34, No. 2, 117–124,

Meloni, M. 2015 - Invited comment to Margaret Lock’s paper “Comprehending the Body in the Era of the Epigenome”, Current Anthropology, 2/2015

Meloni, M. 2014 - "C is for Complexity: Why Genetics Doesn’t Outweigh Teaching", Discover Society (4), January

Meloni, M. 2013 - “Genetics and Philosophy” (review article), New Genetics and Society,32:3, pp. 330-332, doi: 10.1080/14636778.2013.824249

Meloni, M. 2010 “Biopolitics for Philosophers”. Economy and Society, vol. 39/4, pp. 551-566, doi: 10.1080/03085147.2010.510684

Special Issues (Editor)

2016: Biosocial Matters: Rethinking the Sociology-Biology Relations in the Twenty-First Century, Monograph series for The Sociological Review (co-edited with S. Williams and P. Martin) Wiley-Blackwell

2015: “Epigenetics and Society: Potential, Expectations, and Criticism” special issue on Epigenetics for New Genetics and Society (sole editor, 2/2015)