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Who Has More Life? Authentic Bodies and the Ethopolitics of Stem Cells

From: Configurations
Volume 16, Number 3, Fall 2008
pp. 379-398 | 10.1353/con.0.0061



This essay discusses contemporary U.S. debates over human embryonic stem-cell (hESC) research. Central characteristics of these debates, we argue, are the actors and bodies who come to represent "life itself"—a life either to be protected by or protected from hESC research. When biomedical research enters into the hybrid space of media and politics, some actors emerge as having "more life"—and therefore more authenticity and legitimacy—in raising ethical claims than others. We will argue that the bodies of children and celebrities act as particularly authentic bodies, and as forceful representatives in ethopolitical struggles. This, we will argue, relates to children and celebrities being "real" though also "blank," in the sense of inviting identifications and projections. They embody unspecific potentiality and can act as images of a common future more profoundly than the bodies of "ordinary people."