The overall objective of this project is to chronicle historically and analyze sociologically the genesis, development, roles, and significance of bioethics in American society. The study will address the following topics, and the interconnections between them: the genesis of bioethics as a field in the late 1960s; the chief intellectual and professional disciplines that have, and have not, been centrally involved, and the value complexes they represent; the ethos of bioethics, including the roles that moral philosophy, theology, and religion have and have not played; the major thematic foci of bioethical interest and inquiry, including the extent to which and ways in which there are or are not explicit interconnections as well as more latent social and value linkages between bioethics and other foci of ethical concerns in American society; the ways in which bioethics is `more-than-medical` and, however latently, has involved more-than-ethical themes; the social organization, institutionalization, and progressive expansion of the field; the ways that and reasons for which it has increasingly pervaded public domains; and the field's theories and methodologies. The study will use a combination of historical and sociological research methods: (1)semi-structured in-depth individual and small group interviews with key persons from `three generations` of bioethicists, and others involved in the early `bioethics goes to Washington` policy arenas; (2) content analyses of the bioethics literature; (3) a social organizational analysis of the field's progressive institutionalization from the 1960s through the 1990s; and (4) a sociometric or social circles analysis of the interconnections between those who entered bioethics across three generations. During the past 3 decades, bioethics has been a dominant component of what James M. Gufstason has called `ethics: an American growth industry.` Despite the prominence that bioethics has achieved in American society, however, there has been a paucity of work that has examined the field's development. The project has been designed to address this vacuum: it will be the first in-depth study of bioethics, and one which also will illuminate broader themes dealing with American ideas, values, and beliefs. In addition to written products (a book and papers), the study will generate an important body of archival materials, consisting primarily of tapes and transcripts of interviews with key persons in bioethics, which will be deposited at the Kennedy Institute of Ethics.

National Science Foundation (NSF)
Division of Social and Economic Sciences (SES)
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Acadia Institute
Bar Harbor
United States
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