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Keywords:

  • bioethics;
  • discursive formations;
  • ethnography;
  • Principlism;
  • cognitive critique;
  • sociology and ethics

Abstract

This paper argues for the importance of a broad sociological engagement with bioethics. It begins by considering why sociologists should be interested in bioethics and then goes on to explore the cognitive critique of bioethics developed by ethnographers. Some of these authors have also suggested that a more robust bioethics might emerge through the incorporation of the tools of ethnographic analysis. In this paper, it is argued that this is an important claim which needs to be analysed further and that Foucault's concept of discursive formations provides a useful framework for doing so. Once bioethics is redescribed as a discursive formation, the paper explores the challenges and obstacles that sociology and ethnography face in their attempt to open up a space for themselves in bioethics. The paper concludes by suggesting that sociologists and ethnographers need to reflect on the ways in which they might democratically secure legitimacy for their own claims in the field of social ethics.