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The Language and Bioethics Collaboratory is a multi-disciplinary and inter-institutional collaborative research group.


The guiding motivation of our group is to reframe how bioethics scholarship understands language. Bioethics has conventionally been concerned with language as a means of information exchange–between, for example, clinicians and patients, or researchers and study participants. Accordingly, bioethical problems have often been conceived as failures to effectively transfer information. 


Our group takes a radically different view of language. We understand language as a fundamentally social activity that produces concrete effects. The exchange of information is only one such possible effect. This alternative understanding of and approach to language, we believe, has considerable implications for how bioethical problems are identified, described, and rectified. Addressing these concerns has the potential to improve medical care, patient experience, the conduct of research and medical training. 

In pursuing this reframing of language, we draw on the conceptual work of diverse thinkers in linguistic anthropology, the philosophy of language, linguistic pragmatics, and adjacent paradigms. While we are committed to theory development, we are also concerned with grounding our work empirically.  Methodologically, we use social scientific approaches with an emphasis on qualitative methods, though we are open to the use of any rigorous empirical methods that bear on our research questions.

Our Goals


To map and re-conceptualize the role of language in medical care and medical training. 


To produce conceptual and empirical research on language and bioethics to contribute to clinical, bioethics, or social science literature.


To provide learning and mentorship opportunity to those interested in applying rigorous social science methods and approaches.

Our Story

In 2017, two (then) medical students (Bonnie Wong and Jason Batten), a linguistic anthropologist (William Hanks, UC Berkeley), and a clinical ethicist and philosopher (David Magnus, Stanford Center for Biomedical Ethics) initiated an interdisciplinary West Coast collaboration, called the Clinical Language Lab, which sought to explore the application of linguistic pragmatics to biomedical ethics questions, particularly those pertaining to clinical (mis)communication.  Through this collaboration, early works applied Gricean implicature to empirical evidence on "treatability statements" and Austinian Speech Act Theory to quandaries of informed consent.  The lab was founded with a grant from the UC Berkeley Social Science Matrix and received generous support from the Stanford Center for Biomedical Ethics.

Meanwhile, on the East Coast, a medical and linguistic anthropologist (Justin Clapp, University of Pennsylvania), and doctoral student (Samantha Stein) were applying linguistic anthropology to bioethics questions, such as those pertaining to medical decision-making and the conduct of clinical research. 

The endeavor to recast bioethics questions through the lens of language became bi-coastal when the two groups began to correspond. These initial correspondences led to a series of regular meetings, and the teams officially merged under the banner of the Language and Bioethics collaboratory (LAB collab) and began to expand and welcome scholars and researchers from across the country. We welcome you to join our collaboratory. 

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