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:
Mitochondrial Donation: 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.
Stem Cell Science: 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.
Cultured Meat: 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.
Biobanking: 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.
Neil’s work on Capoeira 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.
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.
Membership and affiliation
Research project(s) and grant(s)
The Stem Cell Orchestra (as Co-Investigator) Welsh Crucible 2013. (1/3/14-1/12/14) £9,754.
EPINET: Epistemic Networks (as Workpackage co-leader), European Commission 7th Framework Science in Society Programme Grant agreement no.: 288971. (1/5/12-30/4/15) EC contribution: €1,488,746.
Centre for Society and Genomics Visiting Scholarship (15/5/11-15/7/11).
Using stem cells to make food: Understanding In Vitro Meat (as Principal Investigator), Wellcome Trust Small grant WT096541MA (15/5/11-31/12/12).
Probing the mechanical control of stem cell fate through the development of novel, non-invasive imaging technologies, (as lead researcher on the Social Science component) EPSRC EP/H045848/1 (15/9/10-14/9/2013) £1.3m.
ESRC PhD studentship (1/9/1999-31/8/2003).
Neil has taught qualitative research methods at MSc, Professional Doctorate, and undergraduate levels, Science and Technology Studies at MSc and undergraduate level, and Medical Sociology, Cultural Sociology and Social Theory at undergraduate level. He has also convened an MSc Tissue Engineering module on social aspects of tissue engineering.
Stephens, NS. and Ruivenkamp, M. (Accepted) 'Promise and Ontological Ambiguity in the In Vitro Meat imagescape: from laboratory myotubes to the cultured burger'. Science As Culture.
O'Riordan, K. , Fotopoulou, A. and Stephens, NS. (Accepted) 'The first bite: imaginaries, promotional publics and the laboratory grown burger'. Public Understanding of Science. doi: 10.1177/0963662516639001 Download publication
Stephens, N. and Dimond, R. (2015) 'Unexpected tissue and the biobank that closed: an exploration of value and the momentariness of bio-objectification processes'. Life Sciences, Society and Policy, 11 (1). doi: 10.1186/s40504-015-0032-0 Download publication
Mikami, K. and Stephens, N. (2015) 'Local biologicals and the politics of standardization: Making ethical pluripotent stem cells in the United Kingdom and Japan'. BioSocieties. doi: 10.1057/biosoc.2015.35
Stephens, N. and Dimond, R. (2015) 'Closure of a human tissue biobank: Individual, institutional, and field expectations during cycles of promise and disappointment'. New Genetics and Society, 34 (4). pp. 417 - 436. doi: 10.1080/14636778.2015.1107469 Download publication
Stephens, N. and Delamont, S. (2014) ''I can see it in the nightclub': Dance, capoeira and male bodies'. Sociological Review, 62 (1). pp. 149 - 166. doi: 10.1111/1467-954X.12062
Stephens, N. , Lewis, J. and Atkinson, P. (2013) 'Closing the regulatory regress: GMP accreditation in stem cell laboratories'. Sociology of Health and Illness, 35 (3). pp. 345 - 360. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-9566.2012.01482.x
Stephens, N. (2013) 'Growing meat in laboratories: The promise, ontology, and ethical boundary-work of using muscle cells to make food'. Configurations, 21 (2). pp. 159 - 181. doi: 10.1353/con.2013.0013 Download publication
Twine, R. and Stephens, N. (2013) 'Introduction to special issue on animal biotechnology: Do animal biotechnologies have a latent liberatory imaginary?'. Configurations, 21 (2). pp. 125 - 133.
Tupasela, A. and Stephens, N. (2013) 'The boom and bust cycle of biobanking-thinking through the life cycle of biobanks'. Croatian Medical Journal, 54 (5). pp. 501 - 503. doi: 10.3325/cmj.2013.54.501 Download publication
Stephens, N. , Atkinson, P. and Glasner, P. (2013) 'Institutional Imaginaries of Publics in Stem Cell Banking: The Cases of the UK and Spain'. Science as Culture, 22 (4). pp. 497 - 515. doi: 10.1080/14636778.2013.764071 Download publication
Stacey, G. and Stephens, N. (2012) 'Social science in a stem cell laboratory: What happened when social and life sciences met'. Regenerative Medicine, 7 (1). pp. 117 - 126. doi: 10.2217/rme.11.107
Stephens, N. (2012) 'Space, place and temporality in stem cell and cancer tissue banking: Mediating between patient-donors and biomedical research'. Social Theory and Health, 10 (3). pp. 245 - 264. doi: 10.1057/sth.2012.5
Stephens, N. , Atkinson, P. and Glasner, P. (2011) 'Internationaliser des standards, mettre en banque avec confiance'. Revue d'anthropologie des connaissances, 5, 2 (2). pp. 260 - 260. doi: 10.3917/rac.013.0260
Stephens, N. , Atkinson, P. and Glasner, P. (2011) 'Documenting the doable and doing the documented: Bridging strategies at the UK Stem Cell Bank'. Social Studies of Science, 41 (6). pp. 791 - 813. doi: 10.1177/0306312711423306
Stephens, N. , Atkinson, P. and Glasner, P. (2011) 'Globalising standards, banking on trust: Stem cell banking in three national systems'. Revue d'Anthropologie des Connaissances, 5 (2). pp. 260 - 286.
Stephens, N. and Delamont, S. (2010) 'Roda Boa, Roda Boa: Legitimate peripheral participation in diasporic capoeira'. Teaching and Teacher Education, 26 (1). pp. 113 - 118. doi: 10.1016/j.tate.2009.09.003
de Campos Rosario, C. , Stephens, N. and Delamont, S. (2010) ''I'm your teacher, I'm Brazilian!' authenticity and authority in European capoeira'. Sport, Education and Society, 15 (1). pp. 103 - 120. doi: 10.1080/13573320903461061
Harrington, J. and Stephens, N. (2010) 'A social science view on the FRAME symposium: Identities and networks'. ATLA Alternatives to Laboratory Animals, 38 (SUPPL. 1). pp. 101 - 104.
Stephens, N. and Delamont, S. (2009) ''They start to get malicia': Teaching tacit and technical knowledge'. British Journal of Sociology of Education, 30 (5). pp. 537 - 548. doi: 10.1080/01425690903101031
Stephens, N. , Atkinson, P. and Glasner, P. (2008) 'The UK Stem Cell Bank: Securing the Past, Validating the Present, Protecting the Future1'. Science as Culture, 17 (1). pp. 43 - 56. doi: 10.1080/09505430701872970
Stephens, N. , Atkinson, P. and Glasner, P. (2008) 'The UK Stem Cell Bank as performative architecture'. New Genetics and Society, 27 (2). pp. 87 - 98. doi: 10.1080/14636770802076977
Delamont, S. and Stephens, N. (2008) 'Up on the roof: The embodied habitus of diasporic capoeira'. Cultural Sociology, 2 (1). pp. 57 - 74. doi: 10.1177/1749975507086274
Stephens, N. (2007) 'Collecting data from elites and ultra elites: Telephone and face-to-face interviews with macroeconomists'. Qualitative Research, 7 (2). pp. 203 - 216. doi: 10.1177/1468794107076020
Stephens, N. and Delamont, S. (2006) 'Balancing the berimbau: Embodied ethnographic understanding'. Qualitative Inquiry, 12 (2). pp. 316 - 339. doi: 10.1177/1077800405284370
Stephens, N. , Kramer, K. , Denfeld, Z. and Strand, R. (2015) What Is In Vitro Meat? Food Phreaking #2. The Center for Genomic Gastronomy Download publication
Stephens, N. (2014) 'Ethics and Emerging Laws in Stem Cell Science', in Stem Cell Biology and Tissue Engineering in Dental Sciences. pp. 855 - 863.
Stephens, N. and Delamont, S. (2012) 'Samba no mar: Bodies, movement and idiom in capoeira', in Body/Embodiment: Symbolic Interaction and the Sociology of the Body. pp. 109 - 122.