Academic journal article Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute

Veinglory: Exploring Processes of Blood Transfer between persons/Don De Soi: Une Exploration Des Operations Entourant le Don Du Sang

Academic journal article Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute

Veinglory: Exploring Processes of Blood Transfer between persons/Don De Soi: Une Exploration Des Operations Entourant le Don Du Sang

Article excerpt

In a lecture given at a Beijing conference in 2004 on the global promotion of voluntary blood donation C.Th. Smit Sibinga, a leading figure in transfusion medicine, exhorted donor recruiters to equip themselves with proper 'vein to vein chain understanding'. In the anthropological context, there have been several significant articles that have probed political and kinship economies of blood donation (notably, Cohen 2001; Weston 2001). (1) I suggest that a sustained attempt to acquire an anthropologically hued 'vein to vein chain understanding' might enable us to enrich these analyses and take them further. Accordingly, this article pursues a general anthropology of 'blood economies' which seeks to constitute a solid grounding for future comparative anthropological analyses of blood donation practices. Though the articles referred to do not altogether elide the question of material processes, their focus is squarely on political utilization of acts of donation, indeed a vital area of inquiry, but an area that would benefit from interrogation of what is actually being co-opted, or pushed into service, for particular political or ideological 'projects'.

The aim of this article is to document and interpret the raw materials from which these projects are moulded and to present a set of general features against which particularities of specific blood collection systems can be juxtaposed (Strong 2002: 405). For this purpose materials deriving both from the English National Blood Service (part of the National Health Service, henceforth NBS) and from fieldwork in Delhi during 2003-4 are scrutinized. Interviews with professionals in the Scottish National Blood Transfusion Service (part of the National Health Service in Scotland) were additionally conducted.

The analysis below presumes donation to be 'voluntary'. This could be viewed as controversial in light of the existence of paid and family-replacement donation in various countries, mainly those with a low Human Development Index, to use the preferred term of the World Health Organization (Dhingra 2004). The term 'voluntary' itself could endlessly be deliberated upon. In his classic public policy monograph on blood donation, Titmuss (1971) did exactly this, separating voluntary donation according to varying degrees of transactional 'purity'. Non-remunerated donation is, however, the emerging global reality in blood procurement. Titmuss's claim that safe blood can be relied upon only from non-remunerated donors represents the clear global orthodoxy in terms of transactional desirability (Titmuss 1971; cf. Eastlund 1998; Schwartz 1999). The Beijing conference, already mentioned, was attended by delegates from more than fifty countries. From presentations and discussion there, it is plain that services do indeed presently incorporate paid and 'replacement' donation, but nearly all that do are in the process of 'conversion' to a voluntary, non-remunerated system.

I point out this article's presumption of non-remuneration because, typically in services characterized by this mode of transaction, the blood bank mediates between donors and recipients who do not meet. As both giver and taker, with an obligation to give to those who are in need and an imperative to take from those whom it has encouraged to give, the blood bank performs the function of reciprocity denied to those whom it mediates between. This has significant implications for the arguments presented below, which attempt to establish the 'archetypal actions' (Humphrey & Laidlaw 1994) of blood donation processes. In particular, temporality--both 'of' and 'within' blood gifts--is proposed as the key dimensional counterpart and major effect of this set of material processes.

Transfer equivalences

When circulating outside its originating veins, blood becomes part of different economies: economies of separation (through centrifugal division), of spatio-temporal co-ordination (with veins in need of certain blood 'types'), and of distribution (to bodies suffering a deficit). …

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