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Boel Berner

I am fascinated by blood – its medical, social and political role and uses in society. My research deals with the politics of blood from the mid-19th century until today.

Blood flows

Blood is a potent symbol of ties between human beings, to the family and the nation – it also symbolizes exclusion of those with ”bad blood” and ”blood revenge” against those who have sinned against the community. Blood stands for individual traits (“it’s in the blood”) as well as social distinctions (“blue blood”). Blood flows tell of danger, death and impurity, evoke fear or disgust when trickling or gushing forth, in films or in reality.

But blood is also life-giving. How did the practice of moving blood between people appear historically, how did it evolve into the present complex system of blood donation, transfusion services and industrial production of products based on human blood? What techniques, knowledge, processes of exclusion and inclusion were and are involved? And how has the science of what is in the blood been used to understand human characteristics, establish paternity, distinguish and separate populations based on ideas of race and impurity?


Current Research

The rise and fall of lamb blood transfusion

This book project expands some of my previous studies of blood transfusion and donation. It  looks at what was in the 1870s a new, contested therapy: transfusion of blood from animals (mainly lamb) to humans. How was it used and why, how did the, often very sick patients react, and why was it eventually discontinued? I study transfusion practices and the production of medical knowledge in five different arenas: in the battle field, at the bedside, in the hospital, in laboratories, and in public controversy and debate. Cases come from (mainly) Germany, Sweden, USA, Italy, and Russia.

The Politics of Blood

This project has two parts. In the first – “It's in the Blood? Science, medicine and politics in blood group research during the Interwar years” – I discuss how blood group knowledge was intertwined with politics, morality and ideology during the Interwar years. One study concerns the attempts to link race with blood groups in Swedish and international race biology. Another study discusses the introduction of blood tests to establish paternity in court decisions about child allowance to children to unwed mothers in Sweden and internationally. Issues of social welfare and different legal traditions are relevant here.
In the second part I analyze reactions to the threat of aids/hiv through blood donation in the 1980s and discuss how various stakeholders in Sweden constructed their different "risk object". I focus on the role of gay organizations, blood centres and public authorities and their decisions on measures of prevention and control.

Previous studies

My previous research has discussed the character and social role of technical expertise. Several studies have looked at how such knowledge is used and taught, both within the educational system and in working life. I have studied the work of engineers, historically and today, and I have done participant observation studies within industrial vocational education. A related field of interest has been how risk and uncertainty is understood and handled within complex social and technical environments.

Another important area of research has been gender, science and technology. Several studies have discussed the relationship between masculinity and technology and the different positions of women and men within science and technology. I have also investigated the history of household technology, including studies of the moral and social role of cleaning around the year 1900 and the ideal of the ”modern housewife” in films during the 1950s and 60.

I have also written extensively on interdisciplinarity and on research methodology.




Recent publications

“Blood Relations. Transfusion and the Making of Human Genetics” (review of book by Jenny Bangham, Technology and Culture, 62(3), 2021, 908–909

”’Upplifvande … trots dess motbjudande djuriskhet’? Lammblodstransfusionens användning i 1870-talets medicin” in Motzi Eklöf (ed.) Inom/utom. Kropp, själ och samhälle i medicinens gränsland förr och nu, Exempla, 2021, 34-39

Strange Blood. The Rise and Fall of Lamb Blood Transfusion in 19th Century Medicine and Beyond, transcript Verlag, Bielefeld, 2020, 214 pp. 

Leonilda Maria Elesara Lovisa Sjöström, Svenskt Kvinnobiografiskt lexikon, 2020.

”Sanningen om faderskapet, via blodet. ”Lösaktiga kvinnor”, blodgruppsundersökningar och faderskapsmål 1917–1949, Historisk Tidskrift, 2019, 139(1): 33–67.

“Modernizing the flow of blood: Biomedical technicians, working knowledge and the transformation of Swedish blood centre practices” (with Maria Björkman) Social Studies of Science, 2017, 47(4): 485– 510

”Det ligger i blodet? Vetenskap och ideologi i mellankrigstidens blodgruppsundersökningar” Ikaros. Tidskrift om människan och vetenskapen, 2015, 12(4): 22–26

Latest publications


Boel Berner (2021) Book Review: Blood Relations: Transfusion and the Making of Human Genetics Technology and culture, Vol. 62, p. 908-909 Continue to DOI
Boel Berner (2021) "Upplifvande ... trots dess motbjudande djuriskhet"?: lammblodstransfusionens användning i 1870-talets medicin Inom/utom: kropp, själ och samhälle i medicinens gränsland förr och nu, p. 55-59


Boel Berner (2020) Strange blood: the rise and fall of lamb blood transfusion in 19th century medicine and beyond


Boel Berner (2019) Sanningen om faderskapet, via blodet [The truth about fatherhood, via the blood]: "Lösaktiga kvinnor", blodgruppsundersökningar och faderskapsmål 1917-1949 ["Loose women", blood group analysis and paternity cases 1917-1949] Historisk Tidskrift, Vol. 139, p. 34-67


Boel Berner, Maria Björkman (2017) Modernizing the flow of blood: Biomedical technicians, working knowledge and the transformation of Swedish blood centre practices Social Studies of Science, Vol. 47, p. 485-510 Continue to DOI


Boel Berner (2015) Review of Åsa Broberg, Utbildning på gränsen mellan skola och arbete: Pedagogisk förändring i svensk yrkesutbildning 1918-1971 Nordic Journal of Educational History, Vol. 2, p. 69-73
Boel Berner (2015) Women in Industrial Research - A Complicated History: Review of Renate Tobies et al (eds) Women in Industrial Research Neue Politische Literatur, Vol. 60, p. 133-134
Boel Berner (2015) Det ligger i blodet?: Vetenskap och ideologi i mellankrigstidens blodgruppsundersökningar Ikaros. Tidskrift om människan och vetenskapen., Vol. 12, p. 22-26


Boel Berner (2014) Technology The Wiley Blackwell Encyclopedia of Health, Illness, Behavior, and Society Continue to DOI
Boel Berner, Isabelle Dussauge (Editorship) (2014) Kön, kropp, materialitet: Perspektiv från fransk genusforskning



Professor Emeritus

Professor, tema Teknik och social förändring, Linköping University

2002 (1984, 1996-1997)
Visiting Fellow in Paris

Docent (sociology), Lund University

Visiting Fellow in London

Ph D (sociology) Lund University

Studies in Paris

Studies in London