I had the pleasure of giving an overview of my research area at the recent Blood and Othering in Medical History Workshop with Thackray Museum of Medicine in Leeds, which was run by Dr Jieun Kim, as part of her project Hematopolitics.
My paper presented a brief exploration of blood stem cells, giving an historical overview of their emergence as a therapeutic object in the early work of researchers funded by atomic energy commissions in the US and UK. I then explained a little about how the global blood stem cell inventory – a collation of adult donors and cord blood donors – operates, and some of the sociopolitical tensions surrounding this, not least the issue of maintaining cord blood banks, keeping registries operative during a pandemic, and the issue of racial representation in registries.
Jieun spoke on her work on South Korean blood donation, whilst Dr Sangeeta Chattoo discussed the different imaginaries of hematopathologies like sickle cell disease. These were really interesting, and – brought into conversation with my own presentation – highlighted how ideas of migration and nation are key to how we both think about issues of disease (e.g., increased sickle cell in western countries being seen as an effect of migratory patterns) and the ways to cure them (e.g., ensuring stem cell registries represent the countries they exist in, which may mean very different things in different national contexts). These ways of thinking have profound social effects in who – and what practices and beliefs – are seen as responsible for health problems and their solutions.