Erik Aarden


Erik Aarden2

Erik Aarden


Title of Presentation

“Making Public Value in Biobank-based Research: A Comparative Perspective.”


Date and Place

Session B3


Speaker Biography

Erik Aarden is a postdoctoral researcher at the Department of Science and Technology Studies at the University of Vienna. In his research, he is interested in the social facets and governance of advances in biomedical sciences and technologies, with an emphasis on resource distribution and social justice. In past research projects he has studied the incorporation of genetic diagnostics in collective health care systems in Western Europe and the social interests served by biobanking projects in various places around the globe. Before coming to Vienna, Erik has held positions at Maastricht University in the Netherlands, RWTH Aachen University in Germany and Harvard Kennedy School in the United States.



The wide-ranging public policy support for establishing biobanks is in part due to the promise that collections for biomedical research can deliver value to the public beyond the growth of knowledge. Yet these kinds of promises are often reflected in the design of individual collections, in which that are socially and ethically consequential, but have scarcely been addressed in ELSI-type research. In this paper, biobanks are understood as places where human life, in various forms, is collected to accumulate value. Ranging from the historical collection of data and blood samples in the Framingham Heart Study in the United States to a study of population-wide mortality in India and a recent but unsuccessful attempt to establish a centralized tissue collection in Singapore, the paper investigates how the public value of these collections is made. It does so by using the social science notion of “inscription” as an analytic orientation to trace how the set-up of biobanks redefine populations as material for biological investigation and these biological materials as sources of value. Through this schematic analysis of three different sites where biobanks are used in research, it proposes that biobanks are expected to values such as health education, public health policy and economic growth in highly context specific ways. This analysis thereby complements existing research on publics in biobanking by pointing out how the public value of a biobank depends on how publics become research subjects.