skip to primary navigationskip to content


Reproductive Sociology Research Group

Studying at Cambridge


Karen Jent

Karen Jent

Research Associate


My research focuses on stem cell biotechnologies and translational medicine with an emphasis on reproduction, gender and the body. My PhD dissertation (University of Cambridge 2017) ethnographically explored how laboratory scientists in Scotland and the United States respond to the translational medicine paradigm in the life sciences and specifically investigated the stem cell niche as scientific model of translation. My book manuscript in progress, Making Stem Cell Niches: An Ethnography of Plasticity, builds on the dissertation to explore how post-genomic approaches to stem cells currently redefine the limits of biological plasticity. In a context of heightened concern for applicable science, the reprogramming of stem cells presents researchers with an opportunity to intervene in cellular entities, while it also makes biotechnological control more challenging. My project explores how stem cell research currently adopts a relational definition of the stem cell, and by consequence, enacts biology as contextualised in technological, economic, political and cultural niches. My research has been funded by the Wenner-Gren Foundation and the Wellcome Trust.

At ReproSoc, I coordinate the Dish Life public engagement initiative. In 2016, I produced the short documentary film Dish Life together with stem cell researcher Loriana Vitillo and filmmaker Chloe Thomas. The film explores scientists’ emotional relationship to the cells they grow in the laboratory. Since its premiere, the film has been in the official selection and won awards at over fifteen international film festivals and has been featured in the New York Times and by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. In collaboration with Life in Glass, I now work to turn the film into a digital mobile game. I also coordinate the Life In Translation project together with Professor Sarah Franklin and Dr Noémie Merleau-Ponty, holding a series of conversations with developmental biologists about translational research.

My research concerns include questions of growth, reproduction and plasticity, health and disease, nature and environment, aging and rejuvenation, body and embodiment, science and technology, science communication and public engagement, multispecies ethnography and animal studies, gender and feminist theory, science and technology studies, sociology and anthropology.


Engagement activities & conferences

Dish Life (2016) is an award-winning short film that explores stem cell scientists' emotional relationship to the cells in their care and was realised collaboratively with Chloe Thomas (director), Loriana Vitillo & Karen Jent (executive producers). Watch Dish life here.

In collaboration with EuroStemCell, I co-organised Unfolding Organogenesis, an interactive walk-in exhibition about organ development, regenerative medicine and origami art at the Edinburgh International Science Festival, April 2016.

In spring 2017, I convened the Biocircularities - Lives, Times and Technologies meeting, together with Branwyn Poleykett, held at the Centre for Research in the Arts, Social Sciences and Humanities (CRASSH), University of Cambridge.

A full list of my public engagement activities is available on my personal website.



I am an undergraduate supervisor for the Sociology of Gender and Advanced Social Theory papers, supervising on gender, science, medicine, technology, body, nature and feminist theory.

Key Publications

Book manuscript in progress - Making Stem Cell Niches: An Ethnography of Plasticity.

(2016) Unfolding Organogenesis, published on ReproSoc Blog (May 5, 2016).

(2016) Reproducing the Magic: Uncertain Science and Reason+, published on (April 26, 2016).

(2015) Malignant – How Cancer Becomes Us, in: Medicine Anthropology Theory 2 (1), pp. 182-85.

(2012) Tick tock goes the clock: Laboratory modes of anticipation, published on (February 20, 2012).


Conference presentations

(2017) Socialising with the Neighbours, Science Studies Ethnography Workshop, Department of Anthropology, New York University, October.

(2017) Biocircular Firefighters: Haematopoietic Stem Cell Donation after 9/11, Centre for Research in the Arts, Social Sciences and Humanities (CRASSH) Conference "Biocircularities: Lives, Times and Technologies," University of Cambridge, April.

(2016) The Magpie's Nest and the Stem Cell Niche: Reproduction and Induction of Stem Cell Microenvironments in Scotland, Royal Anthropological Institute Conference "Anthropology, Weather and Climate Change," London, May.