Bio-objects is a concept proposed by the Action to cover a number of biological entities, which are distinct and diverse in biological terms, but which nonetheless share a number of challenges in regard to their production, circulation and embedding within society. The concept of bio-objects allows these challenges to be studied under a common conceptual and methodological framework. Please note that we do not assume that such a framework is already out there, waiting to be collected. Rather, it is the ambition of this Action to develop such a framework, in order to enhance our understanding of bio-objects and to improve their governance.

In a nutshell, ‘bio-objects’ refer to, first, new living materials that disrupt formerly established boundaries and modes of ordering, as well as, second, to ‘old matters of life’ that are ‘revitalized’ when brought into new spaces. Examples for such bio-objects include stem cells, trans-species animals, genetically modified crops, or tissues that are cut from human bodies and stored in tissue repositories or biobanks.

Bio-objects are characterised by ever-greater fluidity and mobility across different domains. This means that a bio-object associated with biomedical research may find its way into the food system or the environment, become part of a repository (as in biobanks or cord blood banks), and have multiple or even contrasting cultural meanings as it circulates between different sectors of society. Moreover, these bio-objects disrupt the conventional boundaries and identities of biological forms—whether human, animal, plant or synthetic. They create new clinical, commercial and regulatory possibilities and demands, challenging our current modes of governance. Their emergence and production is facilitated by ‘generative relations’, i.e. contextual transformations that enable the production and stabilization of bio-objects. At the same time, the production of bio-objects solidifies such transformations.


Bio-objects as a ‘heuristic device’ and a ‘networking device’
Over the past two decades, a lot of research has been conducted on concrete articulations of bio-objects. For instance, there is a consistent body of literature that explores the making of human embryonic stem cells, the ethical conundrums that are associated with their production first and their circulation later, as well as—more recently—the difficult movements of these cells from bench to bedside. Similarly, a very instructive body of literature exists on genetically modified organisms, or tissue stored in biobanks. Arguably, however, much of the value of such studies is lost, as findings on, say, human embryonic stem cells are not compared with findings on genetically modified organisms.
Another fragmentation of this body of literature is more disciplinary in kind. Indeed, whilst concrete articulations of bio-objects are explored at specific sites or scales, movements of bio-objects in space across different social contexts and in time from their conceptual and material creation to their deployment and circulation—are often not tracked. However, these spatial and temporal iterations and reconfigurations can create major societal concerns, whether this be in terms of failings in the existing regulatory institutions to manage such developments or imposing new burdens on people (as citizens, family members, consumers) who often struggle to know how to respond.
Hence, the aim of this Action is to capitalize on the existing body of research and to overcome its fragmentation. The Action uses bio-objects as a ‘heuristic device’ to bring together past and present research conducted on concrete articulations of bio-objects, to compare the findings of this research, to learn from similarities and differences, to track the ‘life course’ of bio-objects in time and in space, and to elaborate an interdisciplinary conceptual framework that can inform future research and policy practices. Like a bee that busily collects nectar or pollen, and makes something new out of it while it also pollinates flowering plants, the concept of bio-objects is meant to collect empirical findings from the existing body of literature, to draw this together, in order to enhance its value and to inform future research and policy practices.
At the same time, bio-objects are meant to function as a ‘networking device’, that does not only allow to gather research that is now fragmented and dispersed, but also the researchers and individuals who conduct this research.
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  Last updated: 04/06/2011