EASA2012: Uncertainty and disquiet

Nanterre University, France, 10/07/2012 – 13/07/2012

(W105)

Signifying blood: illness, technologies, and interpretations (EN)

Location V214
Date and Start Time 13 Jul, 2012 at 11:30

Convenors

Claire Beaudevin (CNRS (French National Centre for Scientific Research)) email
Susanne Ådahl (University of Turku) email
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Short Abstract

Blood is linked to reproduction, ritual, identity, health… Following biomedical advances it is now carrying uncertainty (disease, harmful genes) and enabling kinship and survival (transfusion, blood testing). As a unit of analysis it will bring insights into the interpretations of illness.

Long Abstract

For long anthropologists have had an interest in the significations of human blood. As a classical substance put under scrutiny it has been linked to reproduction, ritual, identity, health, exchange, warfare, and mythical beliefs…

In contemporary society blood as a substance of import has gained new meanings as a result of developments in biomedicine and biotechnology. Blood is both a carrier of uncertainty and misfortune (disease and harmful genes), but also an enabler of kinship, relatedness and human survival (blood donation, transfusion, dialysis, blood testing). Turning our gaze and focus on to blood when talking of illness, we wish to invert the perspective to the micro-level of social reality. Using blood as a unit of analysis will bring different insights into the interpretations and experiences of illness.

In this panel we wish to bring together scholars interested in exploring the multiple and complex meanings of blood. Presentations can touch upon one or several blood related issues:

- how does the composition and content of blood impact on perceptions of self and identity?

- How are we through technology involved in a process of manipulation, enhancement and maintenance of the functions of the human body through the substance of blood?

- What are contemporary ritual uses of blood?

- How and in what contexts is blood used as a vehicle for understanding social reality?

- How can blood be linked to the concept of agency? Can blood be said to have agency? And, if so, how can this link be conceptualised?

This workshop is closed to new paper proposals.

Papers

HIV Infected blood in Cambodia: intertwined circles of turbulences and uncertainties

Author: Pascale Hancart Petitet (Institut de Recherche pour le Développement )  email
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Short Abstract

What can we learn about the intimate social level of the contemporary Cambodian society while approaching it through HIV infected blood? We aim at examining these issues through a biographical perspective and by considering three social realities: women selling sex, patients enrolled in clinical trial and men and women involved in a relationship.

Long Abstract

In Cambodia today, the population still faces a painful past, various rapid social changes and the persistence of an authoritarian regime. Despite the rise of a middle class, a majority of inhabitants remain trapped in precarious social environment. Surprisingly, the management of HIV epidemic appears to be, somehow, a great success. Sided by the accumulation of standardized procedures and the development of new biomedical things set to overcome the global threat; "real life" goes on where caregivers have to deal with HIV infected patients as well as men and woman who are told that their blood contains the notorious virus. What can we learn about the intimate social level of the contemporary Cambodian society while approaching it through HIV infected blood? What does it signify for bodies and daily lives, how and to what extends this blood both triggers hopeless situations and reconfigures new social bonds, spaces and identities? The paper, within an human reproduction anthropological framework, aims at examining these issues through a biographical perspective and by considering three social realities: women selling sex, patients enrolled in clinical trial and men and women involved in a relationship. It focuses on how perceptions, representations and social practices related HIV infected blood can reveal local and global dimensions of human bodily agency. It also brings insight into the intertwined circles of social situations that emerge when blood gains new meanings and subsequently brings individuals to negotiate and cope with turbulences, doubts and uncertainties.

Data confidentiality and the imperative of the relief of suffering: shifting significations of donated blood after the great East Japan earthquake 2011

Author: Bernhard Hadolt (University of Vienna)  email
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Short Abstract

Using ethnographical material from a study on the use of forensic genetic testing in Japan in the aftermath of the Great East Japan Earthquake in March 2011 I look at the shifts of significations that blood as a carrier of information about people and identities underwent.

Long Abstract

The Great East Japan Earthquake and the following tsunami which heavily hit the Tohoku area in March 11 2011, apart from massive destruction of infrastructure, left more than 15.800 people dead and 3.600 missing. The identification of the corpses recovered during the following months often proved difficult; as late as in July 2011 about 1700 dead bodies were still not identified. The police departments that primarily dealt with the identification of the corpses, amongst other methods, also used forensic genetic testing utilising several kinds of cells from people missing. Although the Japanese Red Cross had refused to provide the police with information about donor identity in the past in order to safeguard the anonymity of its blood donors, the organization - with some unease - approved to hand over blood samples for identification purposes to the police in the aftermath of the disaster. This was regarded as part of what the Red Cross saw as its obligation to relieve suffering of bereaved relatives and to help Japanese society in general at a time of national crisis.

Using ethnographical material from an ongoing study on the use of forensic genetic testing in Japan in the aftermath of the disaster I explore the ways of how the uses of blood collected for medical purposes became reconfigured. In particular, I look at the shifts of significations that blood as a carrier of information about people and identities underwent within the tensions between de-personalized blood products, data confidentiality and donor anonymity, as well as the obligation to relieve individual and social suffering.

Donated blood, the body and the self

Author: Patricia Mahon-Daly (Buckinghamshire New University)  email
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Short Abstract

Blood Donation, the Body and the Self, draws on the findings from my thesis as a whole to argue for a link between the bio-medicalisation of the body and the creation of a self-ascribed “hierarchy of the self”; an idea that explains a new or developing relationship between society and the individuated body/self and blood .

Long Abstract

Blood Donation, the Body and the Self

this ethnography presents evidence from my fieldwork which supports and exposits the argument that changes have taken place in the giving relationship in late modernity that highlight the impact and sequelae of risk society and the dominance of biomedicine in relation to the management of blood donors and blood donation and the role of citizenship in relation to ensuring a clean and safe blood supply. The research also served to illustrate changes in blood donation and donor's relationship to the wider society ..This paper extends the scope of changes in blood donation, which enable further understanding of the changes identified in blood donation . It presents a variety of scenarios, illustrating changes in relation to the self and blood as a body part, using data from the fieldwork suggests changes to the blood donation relationship in the UK. Blood donors in this study began to talk about what happens to their blood after donation; it is this change and the understanding of the new life blood has after donation which is entering the donor consciousness. Being duty-bound to engage in donating pieces of the body, either in life or after death has created areas of academic interest as to how this commoditisation influences the understanding of the self and communal identity.

It turnsthe host of the gift, i.e. the body, and examines this new relationship between the body, society, blood and the self.

The paradoxes of blood donors' representations of blood: a complex scientific, religious and cultural amalgam

Authors: Johanne Charbonneau (Institut national de la recherche scientifique)  email
Nathalie Tran (Institut national de la recherche scientifique)  email
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Short Abstract

Four surveys (2009 -2011) with 184 blood donors in Québec, revealed a paradoxical amalgam of representations associated with blood, drawing on new scientific culture, old medical myths, religious justifications and diverse cultural conceptions. What does it mean to be a blood donor today?

Long Abstract

In a blood drive, the moment when the agency arrives to gather the blood bags is implicitly considered as the moment when blood, charged with symbolic significance for the donor, becomes a regulated, standardized and functional product. Four surveys conducted from 2009 to 2011 with 184 blood donors in Québec (54 of them from diverse ethnic minority backgrounds) reveal that the separation between symbol and substance does not reflect this presumed line of demarcation between the donor and the agency. The scientific terminology used by young donors in Québec, the fact that they determine their value as a donor in terms of the rarity of their blood type, and that some of them justify giving blood by the simple wish not to waste a renewable bodily substance—all this suggests a strong internalization of the scientific perspective on blood donation. But not all donors represent blood in this way; the survey actually reveals a paradoxical and frequently contradictory amalgam of representations associated with blood, drawing on old medical myths (bloodletting and regeneration), religious justifications (the sacrifice of spilt blood, but the reminder that blood transfusion is a modern practice free of religious constraints) and diverse cultural conceptions (the preciousness of blood that justifies sharing it only with family members or, on the contrary, with as many people as possible; the fear of illness transmitted through a stranger's blood, but acknowledgement of the universal right to blood). What does it mean to be a blood donor today?

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Thalassaemic stories of blood: the "blood of others" as a therapeutic medium

Author: Aglaia Chatjouli (University of the Aegean)  email
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Short Abstract

Drawing from research on thalassaemic patients in Greece, this paper aims to discuss the centrality of “blood” in narratives of illness, identity, relationality and sociality, in the specific ethnographic context.

Long Abstract

Drawing from ethnographic research on thalassaemic patients in Greece, this paper aims to discuss the centrality of "blood" in narratives of illness, identity, relationality, sociality, in the specific context. Thalassaemia is a genetic condition related with severe forms of anemia. Being dependant on systematic transfusions, on biomedically treated blood, thalassaemic women and men talk a lot about blood, its quality, where it comes from, who should manage it, who does it belong to, etc. Both on the individual and collective levels, when discussing the thalassaemic experience, blood and/or the absence of it, are key in processes of identification and belonging and in dealing with shifting boundaries between self and other, natural and technical.

Multiple parallel significations of blood are present in this context, demonstrating, on the one hand, the ongoing usefulness of the concept in the process of the anthropological inquiry, and highlighting on the other hand the transformations which are the taking place in the ways it is being conceptualized

Blood problems in families: managing uncertainty pertaining to risk of deep vein thrombosis

Authors: Claudie Haxaire (Medical School)  email
Rosana Pinheiro-Machado (Superior School od Advising and Marketing)  email
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Short Abstract

Les dernières avancées scientifiques mettent dans le désarroi les familles à risque de thromboses veineuses idiopathiques a qui le statut génique avait été annoncé. Elles sélectionnent les qualités manifestes du sang en lien avec l'identité qu'elles se reconnaissent comme marqueur du risque.

Long Abstract

Embolism as a consequence of deep vein thrombosis is a major public health issue. Some episodes of embolism occur without apparent cause, spurring research in the 1990s that revealed mutations in the genes that code for two coagulation factors. In these cases first-degree relatives of the patient are at risk and should take preventive measures. It was later shown, however, that a complex clinical reasoning, taking into account the patient's age at the time of the embolism episode, and the frequency of embolism in the family, was a better tool for risk prediction (FIT study, Couturaud et al., 2006). We have worked on management of this risk in families that took part in clinical studies. Informed of the presence or absence of genetic mutations, this scientific progress is at best a source of dismay for the families, when they do not simply deny the risk. Families rely on common representations of blood and its good or bad circulation, and on notions of cardiovascular disease, without always differentiating clearly between arteries and veins. Furthermore, as in our culture blood is classically held to be the vehicle for transmission of character traits, and metaphorically of identity, we observe interferences with lay representations of genetics. In this study the manifest qualities of blood and the vascular system are retained as risk markers, as far as transmission is concerned. Selection of these markers takes into account the identity that the patient recognises, and hence of the relationship with family members.

This workshop is closed to new paper proposals.