Journal of the History of Biology

, Volume 43, Issue 1, pp 67–109 | Cite as

Stems and Standards: Social Interaction in the Search for Blood Stem Cells

  • Melinda Bonnie FaganEmail author


This essay examines the role of social interactions in the search for blood stem cells, in a recent episode of biomedical research. Linked to mid-20th century cell biology, genetics and radiation research, the search for blood stem cells coalesced in the 1960s and took a developmental turn in the late 1980s, with significant ramifications for immunology, stem cell and cancer biology. Like much contemporary biomedical research, this line of inquiry exhibits a complex social structure and includes several prominent scientific successes, recognized as such by participating researchers. I use personal interviews and the published record to trace the social interactions crucial for scientific success in this episode. All recognized successes in this episode have two aspects: improved models of blood cell development, and new interfaces with other lines of research. The narrative of the search for blood stem cells thus yields a robust account of scientific success in practice, which generalizes to other scientific episodes and lends itself to expansion to include wider social contexts.


social epistemology immunology stem cells collaboration laboratory studies scientific practice Irving Weissman 


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This research was supported by Dissertation Year Fellowship from the College of Arts and Sciences at Indiana University (2006–2007) and a Doctoral Dissertation Improvement Grant from the National Science Foundation (SES-0620993). Guidance in sociological research methods was generously provided by Tom Gieryn. Many thanks to Jordi Cat, Elihu Gerson, Tom Gieryn, Jim Griesemer, Jutta Schickore, Fred Tauber, two anonymous reviewers, and audiences at the Universities of Western Ontario, California at Santa Cruz, California at Davis, Exeter, and Pittsburgh for helpful comments and criticism. Last but not least, I thank the interviewees and their colleagues for patiently sharing their time and experiences in research. Any errors are my own.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PhilosophyRice UniversityHoustonUSA

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