Bioethics Blogs

Magic Words: A Numbered List by Vincent Duclos

  1. Boundary
  2. Biǎo 表
  3. Interiorization (Inclusion)
  4. The Fold
  5. Emptiness
  6. Pathway
  7. Tōng 通
  8. Media/Medium
  9. Resonance
  10. Excess
  11. Immunity/Community


1. Boundary

Boundary is such a common-sense concept that it hardly needs to be glossed. Indeed, the definition of the word in the Oxford English Dictionary flirts with tautology in its obviousness: “that which serves to indicate the bounds or limits of anything….” Interestingly, however, “boundary” in this definition takes an active verb, it “serves” to do something social, conceptual, and even political. In recent scholarship boundaries between knowledge domains are seen as disputed, just as the political boundaries between nation-states often are. It has become common in science studies to examine the very practice of “serving to indicate the bounds or limits of anything.” Historians and sociologists of science have analyzed border wars or boundary disputes in which scientists and commentators ask, about fields like psychology or cold fusion: is it really science, or is it superstition, error, ideology? Some observers of biomedicine have asked whether this field is, properly speaking, a science or, like “non-Western” healing modalities, a skilled art, thus challenging the distinctness of the two worlds of science and art.

Susan Leigh Star and James Griesemer have given us the useful notion of a boundary object, “which both inhabit[s] several intersecting social worlds and [satisfies] the informational requirements of each of them.” Boundary objects “have different meanings in different social worlds but their structure is common enough … to make them recognizable, a means of translation.” These uses of the concept of boundary do not presume that boundaries (“whether material or immaterial,” the OED says) exist in the world undisputed.  Nor are boundary lines drawn such that their location is clear to everyone.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.