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Reproductive Sociology Research Group

Noémie Merleau Ponty has published a new article, A Hierarchy of Deaths: Stem Cells, Animals and Humans Understood by Developmental Biologists, with Taylor and Francis Online, which is available with open access.



Stem cell basic science has sparked a lot of attention because of its use of cells coming from ‘destroyed’ embryos. An ethnographic study conducted in two developmental biology laboratories located in India and France demonstrates that lab professionals do not see the use of these cells as controversial. What appears to be a major topic of reflection is the killing of mice. A hierarchy of deaths is delineated when biologists evoke the kind of lives at play in their science. A comparison between narrations of cell experimentations and mice sacrifices enriches a biological approach to the living through genetics, which is nonetheless performed in daily scientific practices. Laboratory workers enact other perceptions that point at being alive or having a life. They acknowledge, with personal convictions or expressions of intense affects, lives that are said to be embodied and experienced, while being hierarchised for the sake of science and dying patients. Laboratory workers’ narratives of a hierarchy of deaths provide them with arguments to engage with discussions happening outside of their workplace about the handling of living materials in experimental settings.

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