The rise of 'recruitmentology': Clinical research, racial knowledge, and the politics of inclusion and difference

Steven Epstein*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

84 Scopus citations

Abstract

Recent debates concerning the biomedical meaning and significance of race have paid relatively little attention to the practical implications of new policies in the US mandating the inclusion of racial and ethnic minorities (along with other 'underrepresented groups') as research subjects in clinical studies. I argue that pressures to enroll underrepresented groups have stimulated the development in the US of an auxiliary science I term 'recruitmentology': an empirical body of studies scientifically evaluating the efficacy of various social, cultural, psychological, technological, and economic means of convincing people (especially members of 'hard-to-recruit populations') that they want to become, and remain, human subjects. Via the filtering of social scientific frameworks into the clinical research domain, recruitmentology has promoted hybrid ways of thinking about race - awkward encounters in which depictions of race as a bounded, quasi-biological medical and administrative category sit uneasily alongside an interest in understanding racial identities and communities as sociocultural phenomena. I analyze how recruitmentologists, in addressing the mandate to recruit racially diverse subject populations, conceptualize race while simultaneously grappling with problems of trust, collective memory, and participation. I also examine how the increasingly transnational character of biomedical research is intensifying the exploitative dimensions of recruitment while further transforming the racialized character of human experimentation. This analysis highlights the tensions underlying projects to eliminate health disparities by race.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)801-832
Number of pages32
JournalSocial Studies of Science
Volume38
Issue number5
DOIs
StatePublished - Oct 2008

Keywords

  • Biopolitics
  • Clinical trials
  • Difference
  • Inclusion
  • Race
  • Recruitment
  • Trust

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • History
  • Social Sciences(all)
  • History and Philosophy of Science

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