Stem Cells between Ethics and Entrepreneurship: How a Contested Bio-Object Became ‘Normal’

Malin Ideland


Human Embryonic Stem Cell (hESC) research has been described by many scholars as a controversial issue. However, in Swedish media reporting, hESC research is no longer described as contested. The aim of this paper is to explore how this research field has been normalized through discursive shifts which have had effects in terms of the lack of debate around novel biotechnologies.

The article compares the reporting of Swedish newspapers on hESC research during year 2001 and onwards. The reason for this selection is that during 2001 there was a heated debate around hESC. After that point, media reporting is characterized by a lack of debate. Therefore, Swedish media reporting makes an interesting case for understanding how an ethical controversy can end. To conceptualize the contemporary lack of media reporting and debate, this paper analyzes discourses operating in news media reports during and after 2001 through studying how different researcher/subject positions and hESC bio-identities are articulated during different times, and how these open up for different issues to be, or not to be, reported and discussed. Laclau and Mouffe’s discourse theory, as well as a theoretical framework of bio-objectification inspire the analysis.

The result shows how ethical and political discourses about hESC in the Swedish news media have been replaced with engineering and economical discourses. The main point is that this new discursive formation has closed opportunities for oppositional ways of talking about hESC research, for example, as an ethical issue or an area for political debate and legislation. Instead, scientific-technological-therapeutic progress has been bound to a belief in economic progress. The final part of this article discusses how this discursive change can be understood in the perspective of changing relations between the public and academia, but also how dissolving positions can open up hegemonic discourses and challenge fixed meanings.

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Studies in Media and Communication      ISSN 2325-8071 (Print)   ISSN 2325-808X (Online)

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