Social Theory & Health

, Volume 10, Issue 3, pp 245–264

Space, place and temporality in stem cell and cancer tissue banking: Mediating between patient-donors and biomedical research

  • Neil Stephens
Original Article

DOI: 10.1057/sth.2012.5

Cite this article as:
Stephens, N. Soc Theory Health (2012) 10: 245. doi:10.1057/sth.2012.5


This article reports on two qualitative studies of tissue banks in the United Kingdom: the onCore UK Cancer Tissue Bank and the UK Stem Cell Bank. I use the language of Waldby and Mitchell's tissue economies to interrogate the shared ground between the two institutions as collators, moral guardians and distributors of human tissue. The article articulates the key ontological and ethical differences between cancer tissue taken directly from patients and embryonic stem cell material taken from ‘spare’ IVF embryos donated by couples undergoing treatment. In this context, a key focus of the article is the spatial and temporal formations both constraining and produced by each bank to demonstrate the ways in which both institutions are engaged in bringing stable modes of exchange to socially complex human tissue, to both control temporal multiplicity and tame geographical spread. I take seriously the spaces and places of each bank, and the movement and flows of tissue through them to demonstrate how tissue banks operate as ‘moral refineries’ supplying healthcare research.


cancerstem cellshuman tissuebankingspacetemporality

Copyright information

© Palgrave Macmillan, a division of Macmillan Publishers Ltd 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  • Neil Stephens
    • 1
  1. 1.ESRC Centre for the Economic and Social Aspects of Genomics (Cesagen), Cardiff University School of Social SciencesCardiffUK