Journal of Bioethical Inquiry

, Volume 6, Issue 1, pp 83–98 | Cite as

Anthropological and Sociological Critiques of Bioethics

  • Leigh TurnerEmail author


Anthropologists and sociologists offer numerous critiques of bioethics. Social scientists criticize bioethicists for their arm-chair philosophizing and socially ungrounded pontificating, offering philosophical abstractions in response to particular instances of suffering, making all-encompassing universalistic claims that fail to acknowledge cultural differences, fostering individualism and neglecting the importance of families and communities, and insinuating themselves within the “belly” of biomedicine. Although numerous aspects of bioethics warrant critique and reform, all too frequently social scientists offer ungrounded, exaggerated criticisms of bioethics. Anthropological and sociological critiques of bioethics are hampered by the tendency to equate bioethics with clinical ethics and moral theory in bioethics with principlist bioethics. Also, social scientists neglect the role of bioethicists in addressing organizational ethics and other “macro-social” concerns. If anthropologists and sociologists want to provide informed critiques of bioethics they need to draw upon research methods from their own fields and develop richer, more informed analyses of what bioethicists say and do in particular social settings.


Bioethics Sociology Anthropology Social sciences 


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Center for BioethicsUniversity of MinnesotaMinneapolisUSA

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