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Directing the Future of Gene Therapy in Cyprus: Breakthroughs, Subjunctivities, and the Pragmatics of Narrative

By Theodoros Kyriakides

Cite As:
Kyriakides, Theodoros. 2018. “Directing the Future of Gene Therapy in Cyprus: Breakthroughs, Subjunctivities, and the Pragmatics of Narrative.” Cultural Anthropology 33, no. 4: 680–704.


Gene therapy is a technology that involves the introduction of therapeutic genes into humans for the replacement of mutations causing disorders. This article stems from research conducted with a thalassemia patients’ association in Cyprus and explores how political and epistemic uncertainty surrounding the promise of breakthrough in gene therapy is harnessed to particular objectives and narratives for the future. Anthropologists who survey the future largely address the manner in which people orient themselves in conditions of uncertainty through concepts of hope, waiting, patience, and endurance. Less attention has been paid to how people construct and deploy narratives and images of the future in a way that can bridge present immediacy and abstract futurity—a process I call directing the future. The concept I use to elucidate the connections between breakthrough and narrative is that of subjunctivity. In juxtaposing different positionalities that thalassemia patients in Cyprus adopt with regard to the promise of gene therapy, I show that subjunctivity is not only the ability to be receptive to transformation and the possibility of a world otherwise. The intersubjective and political processes out of which subjunctivity and narrative emerge are also the processes by which an otherwise undefined future becomes ordered, and certain images of the future attain more gravity and reality than others.


future; subjunctivity; uncertainty; hope; waiting