Dr. Neil Stephens is a sociologist focusing upon Science and Technology Studies (STS) and Cultural Sociology. His work has covered two main themes (i) the sociology of biomedical innovation and (ii) the sociology of the African-Brazilian dance/martial art/game Capoeira as taught in the UK.
His current Brunel work is within his focus on biomedical innovation, and is an ethnographic study of the development and use of robotic surgery in neuroscience and other fields. This work is supported by the Wellcome Trust Biomedical Ethics Strategic Award (£835,000) “LABTEC - London & Brighton Translational Ethics Centre” directed by Prof. Clare Williams.
Other biomedical areas in which Neil has previous and ongoing interest include:
: In 2015-16 Neil worked with Dr Rebecca Dimond (Cardiff University) to conduct interviews with organisations and individuals active in the lead up to the 2015 legalisation of the mitochondrial donation technique that uses a form of IVF to remove faulty mitochondria from the germline and prevent subsequent generations of a family inheriting mitochondrial disease. The project mapped the policy activity of key actors in the debate. Mitochondrial Donation
: Neil has conducted multiple projects on stem cell science. During 2005-09 Neil worked with Prof Paul Atkinson and Prof Peter Glasner (Cardiff University) to conduct an ethnography of the UK Stem Cell Bank: an institution that holds all human embryonic stem cell lines that are legal for use in the UK and decides how can use them for what purposes. His work explored the standardisation of both technical and ethical aspects of regulatory practice. During 2011-2014 Neil conducted an ethnography of an interdisciplinary group of stem cell scientists, engineers, physicians, and chemists to understand how interdisciplinary groups operate in practice. In 2014-15 Neil conducted an ethnography with a team of bioinformaticians, biologists, and musicians to explore how sound can be added to bioinformatics software to better facilitate the capturing of cell culturing knowledge.Stem Cell Science
: Taking the stem cell work in a novel direction, since 2008 Neil has worked on an ongoing project exploring the social world of meat grown in the laboratory, known as in vitro or cultured meat. He has conducted over 40 interviews with people active in the field and attends key meetings. He explores how accounts of what cultured meat ‘is’, and what it could accomplish, emerge in parallel with the social worlds it occupies. Cultured Meat
: In addition to the ethnography of the UK Stem Cell Bank, Neil conducted an interview study with an anonymous biobank during the two year period that the bank closed. This allowed him to produce a distinct analysis of what happens as biobanks close and how the tissue holdings are dispersed. Biobanking
has been conducted with Dr Sara Delamont (Cardiff University) and has been an ongoing project since 2004. The team uses UK based Capoeira classes to explore issues of embodiment, teaching, and globalised culture. During this work Neil adopted the role of the embodied ethnographer – doing the basic steps, kicks, and cartwheels, and playing the musical instruments - of Capoeira while Sara Delamont recorded observational fieldnotes. The project has resulted in ten publications and a book is currently in development.CapoeiraNeil’s work on
Neil has also worked on social capital in relation to marginalised groups and attitudes towards higher education. His PhD (Cardiff University) explored the social construction of macroeconomic knowledge, specifically the ‘Phillips Curve’ relationship between unemployment and inflation between the 1950s and 1980s.
Newest selected publications
Stephens, NS. and Dimond, B. (Accepted) 'Researching among Elites', in Liamputtong, P. (ed.) Research Methods in Health Social Sciences. Springer.
Dimond, B. and Stephens, NS. (Accepted) 'Three persons, three genetic contributors, three parents: Mitochondrial donation, genetic parenting and the immutable grammar of the ‘three x x’'. Health: An Interdisciplinary Journal for the Social Study of Health, Illness and Medicine. ISSN: 1461-7196 Open Access Link
Delamont, S., Stephens, NS. and Campos, C. (2017) 'Embodying Brazil: An ethnography of diasporic capoeira'. London and New York: Routledge. ISSN 13: 978 1 138 67248 2
Stephens, NS. and Dimond, B. (Accepted) 'Debating CRISPR/cas9 and Mitochondrial Donation: Continuity and Transition Performances at Scientific Conferences'. Engaging Science, Technology, and Society, 2. pp. 312 - 321.Open Access Link
Stephens, NS. and Lewis, J. (Accepted) 'Doing laboratory ethnography: reflections on method in scientific workplaces'. Qualitative Research. ISSN: 1468-7941 Open Access Link