The moral organization of the professions: Bioethics in the United States and France

Curr Sociol. 2009 Jan 1;57(4):555-579. doi: 10.1177/0011392109104354.


Bioethics is a relatively new endeavor, emerging as a discourse distinct from considerations of moral responsibility occurring within the professions of medicine and science. We use the 'de-centered comparative method' to examine how the emergence and development of bioethics varies across different social and cultural settings. In particular, we look at bioethical work in the United States and France, exploring these different manifestations of the movement toward external oversight of those working in medicine and the life sciences. The study of these varied processes of occupational development allows us to address two important issues. One is the way in which pathways of professionalisation are shaped by contingent cultural and historical factors. The other is the degree to which the increasing prominence of the bioethical occupation is the result of the professional desires of bioethicists and/or a concern for the public good.