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National risk signatures and human embryonic stem cell research in mainland China

journal contribution
posted on 2023-06-07, 16:31 authored by Margaret Sleeboom-FaulknerMargaret Sleeboom-Faulkner
The international development of human embryonic stem cell research has become closely tied to global bioethics, which places moral responsibility on stem cell researchers. This article argues that the development of bioethical regulation of human embryonic stem cell research is better understood by approaching the institutionalisation of bioethics in terms of risk perceptions of stem cell scientists. Eschewing approaches that understand bioethical risk as a mere matter of morality or as a social construct, this article emphasises the materiality and strategic reasoning of bioethical views on risks associated with human embryonic stem cell research. Such an approach allows the identification of forms of risk rooted in the everyday practice of Chinese human embryonic stem cell research, including moral risk (as a violation of cultural values), material risk (in relation to the distribution of material resources and wealth), political risk (in terms of the political economy of bioethics and public debate) and reputational risk (in terms of personal and national honour). Although this analysis builds on Tom Horlick-Jones's concept of risk signatures of new technologies, which emphasise the capacities of different technologies to engender and delimit the particular social and cultural interpretations of the risks they generate, the article reveals the existence of a certain global awareness among stem cell scientists of risk signatures. They display a creative and strategic awareness regarding the possible opportunities and constraints the risk signature of human embryonic stem cell research affords in their particular institutional context compared to those of others abroad and at home in different environments. The existence of this form of reflexivity requires recognition and methodological accommodation.


Publication status

  • Published


Health, Risk and Society




Taylor & Francis





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Department affiliated with

  • Anthropology Publications

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Peer reviewed?

  • Yes

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