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Liminality and the limits of law in health research regulation: What are we missing in the spaces in-between?

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Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)47-72
Number of pages26
JournalMedical Law Review
Issue number1
Early online date8 Dec 2016
Publication statusPublished - 2017


This article fundamentally challenges the way in which law currently regulates human health research. It invokes the anthropological concept of liminality – the quality of in-between-ness – to suggest deeper ways of understanding ongoing challenges in delivering acceptable and effective regulation of research involving human participants. In stark contrast to the structural regulatory spaces constructed by law, the metaphor of the liminal space is explored to explain what is lost through our failure to see health research regulation as an inherently human experiential process, involving potentially profound transformative events for participants and researchers alike. The implications for the future of health research regulation are then examined. In particular, the analysis calls into question key features of the current regulatory paradigm, and demands that we reconsider our own demands of law in this context. The argument is made that health research is a liminal process and that we fail to treat it as such. This requires a rethink of corollary regulation also in processual terms. Ultimately, the charge is to undertake a radical reimagining of regulatory space to accommodate and promote liminal regulatory spaces.

    Research areas

  • health research, liminality , consent, confidentiality , regulation

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