Despite the growing importance of ‘social value’ as a central feature of research ethics, the term remains both conceptually vague and to a certain extent operationally rigid. And yet, perhaps because the rhetorical appeal of social value appears immediate and self-evident, the concept has not been put to rigorous investigation in terms of its definition, strength, function, and scope. In this article, we discuss how the anthropological concept of liminality can illuminate social value and differentiate and reconfigure its variegated approaches. Employing liminality as a heuristic encourages a reassessment of how we understand the mobilization of ‘social value’ in bioethics. We argue that social value as seen through the lens of liminality can provide greater clarity of its function and scope for health research. Building on calls to understand social value as a dynamic, rather than a static, concept, we emphasize the need to appraise social value iteratively throughout the entire research as something that transforms over multiple times and across multiple spaces occupied by a range of actors.
- Health research
- Social value