, Volume 11, Issue 4, pp 458–475 | Cite as

Placental economies: Care, anticipation and vital matters in the placenta stem cell lab in Korea

  • Jieun LeeEmail author
Original Article


Thinking with the vital materiality of placentas as it is evinced in a placental stem cell research lab in Korea, this article explores the relations and practices of care that are essential to the circulation of biological matters as infrastructure of tissue economies. I attend to the flows of care that sustain tissue economies with the notion of ‘placental economies’. Shifting attention from donor subjects and tissue objects to practices and relations of care as an infrastructure for the circulation of tissues, I explore how the vitality of biological matters is an achievement made and sustained through the relations and practices of care that animate the placenta in different forms. On the basis of an ethnographic fieldwork conducted in Korea, this article focuses on two different forms of care (lab workers’ care of cells, and pregnant women’s care of fetuses) that enable the (re)production and circulation of placenta-derived stem cells possible. I argue that the flows of tissues and vitality are indeed the flows of care, as an anticipatory as well as responsive practices, without which the vitality cannot exist in its current form. Furthermore, I suggest that relations and practices of care are a kind of infrastructure of promissory biotechnological enterprises.


stem cells placental economies care infrastructure reproductive labor 



The author would like to thank to Timothy Choy, Maya Costa-Pinto, Joseph Dumit, Chris Kortright, Seo Young Park, Michelle Stewart, Hee-won Tae for reading and commenting on the manuscript at various stages. The anonymous reviewers at BioSocieties have provided extremely helpful comments. Support for this project has come from the Social Science Research Council, the UC Davis Humanities Institute and the Department of Anthropology at UC Davis.

The manuscript is comprised of original material that is not under review elsewhere. The study this manuscript is based on has been conducted under appropriate ethical review. I have no competing interests – intellectual or financial – in the research detailed in the manuscript.


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Copyright information

© Macmillan Publishers Ltd 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Anthropology, Institute for Gender Studies, Yonsei UniversitySeoulSouth Korea

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