Liminal Spaces Team Holds Symposium on Health Research Regulation and Liminality

People meeting around a table

In May 2015, the Liminal Spaces Project team held a one-day workshop to discuss health research regulation in the United Kingdom.

Biomedicine and the life sciences continue to rearrange the relationship between culture and biology, problematising what it means to be a person, and introducing uncertainty and instability to individual and public life. When this occurs in regulation, law is often called upon in response. Is this the best option? Could an anthropological concept developed to make sense of ritual, structure and agency help us to better understand the profound sociotechnical challenges that continue to redefine life in the age of biobanks, gene and stem cell therapy, and other novel medico-scientific domains? Liminality refers to a threshold state characterised by possibility, marginality and transformation. Early research into liminal states helped to better understand the relationship between structure and agency, drawing attention to the connection between transformation and a given society’s underlying organisation and values. As temporal and spatial spaces of change, liminal states are also the sites of and for reflection.

Drawing together scholars from the social sciences, humanities, and law, this event provided lively and thoughtful discussion to better develop understandings of liminality. In doing so, it sought to engage with technoscientific uncertainty and its productive potential, by asking: How are boundaries and thresholds experienced today? Can we speak of spaces “betwixt and between” technological, biomedical and regulatory fields? What are the benefits and risks of operating or “living” in liminality?

As part of the Wellcome Trust funded project, Confronting the Liminal Spaces of Health Research Regulation, this workshop created an opportunity for stakeholders from government and academia to explore, evaluate and discuss options for rethinking current, and designing novel approaches to, health research regulation.