Imagining Future Relations: Immunity, Ecology and Disease

At the end of February, I was invited to participate in a virtual workshop with social science researchers working around the area of immunities. I presented some initial thoughts based on Mix & Match, which explored how immunities in the context of stem cell transplantation are necessarily racialised, both through the original immunological scientific work that “mapped” HLA frequencies around the world, but also in the contemporary civic work of trying to diversify the immunological (and racial) constitution of stem cell registries.

Other contributors discussed a range of topics. Amongst them, some colleagues spoke about ecology, rewilding and the probiotic turn (Jamie Lorimer and Beth Greenhough, Oxford); others, the built environment and hospital architecture (Nik Brown, York). Papers also covered topics from vaccine capitalism in the context of COVID (Salla Sariola, Helsinki) to shifting conceptions of the placenta (Sophia Rossman, Munich). The organisers, Julia Swallow and Andrea Ford at the University of Edinburgh, also presented on their respective research on CAR-T imaginaries of immune self/others, and on endometriosis and the connection between gut, brain and immune system. They will be finding opportunities to share this spread of work more widely in the form of a special issue or open conference panel. I hope to develop the below abstract and its presentation in a fuller paper specifically about conceptions of mixedness and HLA rarity.

Abstract for the event:

Racialised relationalities?: immunocompatibility, tissue transplant, and the preoccupation with race

In clinical practice, immunities may compel us to foreground relations. “Immunocompatibility” (e.g., a bone marrow stem cell donor and recipient “matching” cellularly) invites relational thinking. Matching donors/recipients are thought more likely to share a common ethnic ancestry whence their common immune systems emerge. A ‘problem’ category has even come about: mixed-raced recipients who cannot find matching donors because of their ‘rare’ immunological mixes. In this intervention, I explore how a blend of highly racialised thinking and concern for equitable treatment access now informs global civic action that ‘innovates kin’ through encouraging dispersed racialised communities to enroll as stem cell donors.

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