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Biomedtech Nation: Taiwan, Ethics, Stem Cells and Other Biologicals


Stem cell research is a globalizing science that travels in conjunction with varied bioethical ideas, discourses, and instruments. This dissertation takes stem cell research and bioethics as anthropological objects and examines them as social phenomena. Although science and bioethics have shown themselves to be capable of universalization, they take on different meanings and practices in situated local settings. This dissertation investigates how stem cell and related sciences and ethics travel in Taiwan.

For scientists and others involved in stem cell research and policy-making in Taiwan, being Taiwanese is an ethical project in many ways. This ethicality includes personal and institutional components configured in relation to transnational experiences and broad projects of constituting a modern and ethical contemporary Taiwan. Using specific examples from policy-making and biomaterial collecting, I suggest that the work of bioethics is often that of enabling research to proceed by offering ethical legitimation and multi-level risk mitigation. In spite of portrayals of Asia as a site of unfettered biomedical science I find, paradoxically, that research freedom is provided through regulation. Throughout, I show how stem cell science and bioethics serve within broad projects of democracy and nation building, while simultaneously shaping notions of biogenomic belonging.

Stem cell science is a modern global form; yet it serves deeply social and often nationalistic visions of the role of biotechnology, and its adoption and interactions are uneven and situated. Here, I show how stem cell research represents a deliberate conjoining of biotechnology and national development that mobilizes both individualist and collectivist ethics and creates specific biological inclusions and exclusions.

This dissertation is based on fourteen months of ethnographic research conducted in Taiwan. These include a one-month preliminary stay in the summer of 2004, a year of research from September 2005 to September 2006, and a month-long follow-up trip during the summer of 2007. Principal research methods are participant-observation, semi-structured interviews, and archival data collection. Findings are also informed by comparative visits to mainland China and Hong Kong, and a year as a Fellow with the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine.

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