E D I T O R I A L Open Access
Editors introduction: biobanks as
sites of bio-objectification
, Nik Brown
and Conor Douglas
Brunel University London, London,
Full list of author information is
available at the end of the article
Biobanks and biorepositories have become increasingly important and prevalent since
the 1990s as holders and distributors of biological material. They exhibit significant
diversity in form and function, from the very small to the very large, from the very
specialised to the much more generic, holding collections of diseased and healthy
resources, from human, animal and plant, and span private, public and third sectors.
They also operate as key mediators in relationships between patients, researchers, reg-
ulators and companies as they hold and distribute tissue, data and social credibility.
Furthermore, they remain active sites in the mediation of controversy, sometimes caus-
ing controversy, sometimes closing controversy. In doing, they become important
nodal points of regulatory practice (Douglas et al. 2012; Hansen and Metzler 2012).
Their proliferation has resulted in new and dynamic ethical and policy issues in need
of critical engagement, some of which are addressed in this thematic issue. A growing
literature exists addressing these important issues and opening new ones for inspec-
tion. Here we present a set of papers that contribute to this work. The distinctiveness
of this thematic issue is the application of a unified theoretical approach.
The thematic issue takes biobanks and biorepositories as empirical and conceptual
sites for articulating and applying the theoretical tool kit of Bio-objects, Bio-
objectification and Bio-identification (cf. Tupasela and Stephens 2013). The thematic
issue builds upon the work of the ISCH COST Action IS1001 “Bio-objects and their
boundaries” to offer a set of inter-related papers that retain analytical continuity while
exploring different empirical configurations of biobanking practice (cf. Vermeulen et al.
2012). The authors represented here understand the contents of biobanks as bio-objects:
referring to “a socially potent biotechnological entity which generates controversy due to
its potential challenging of established classifications” (Webster A: Bio-objectification:
definitions and tools unpublished internal document. COST Bio-objects action, unpub-
lished). They seek to analyse the role of biobanks in determining the boundaries of bio-
objects, through the examination of the active process of ‘bio-objectification’,meaning
the process through which different types of bio-socio-technological categorizations con-
tribute to the making of bio-objects. As a consequence of these novel relations, the
boundaries between human and animal, organic and nonorganic, living and the suspen-
sion of living (and the meaning of death itself), are questioned and destabilized, as new
relationships are formed (Tamminen and Vermeulen 2012). The analyst’s task is to map
how bio-objects are formed through bio-objectification processes, and to analyse the
standardization, stabilization and labelling of a new entity.
© The Author(s). 2018 Open Access This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International
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Stephens et al. Life Sciences, Society and Policy (2018) 14:6