Paper presented at the annual Royal Anthropological Institute conference

I recently presented a developing piece of work from this project – specifically around how ‘mixedness’ (a term I use to include different notions of mixed race, mixed heritage, mixed ethnicity, and other ideas, e.g., being bi-, or multi-racial) is enacted in the context of stem cell donor recruitment. The panel I presented in (“Digitalization and the Reconstitution of the Social and Political Realities of Human Being“) was specifically interested in how digital media are interpolated in our ideas of ‘the social’, so I decided to focus particularly on the role that social media in particular play in the work of plotting out ‘a community’, a vital part of the work for recruitment that seeks to focus on specifically racialised donors (you can read more about this point in an article from the project).

The paper is still in development, and I hope to work it up into something more substantial over the rest of the project’s course. The abstract for the paper presented at the conference is reproduced below.

Social media, patient campaigning, and the (re)constitution of racialised community?

This paper takes as its starting point press coverage of a social media campaign to encourage people around the world to register as stem cell donors. Like many similar campaigns, this one focused on a racially minoritised cancer patient in need of, and unable to locate, a genetically matching donor on the stem cell registry. Such coverage generally begins by explaining the (unquestioned) scientific consensus that race determines genetic profiles, before writing that the patient’s mixed-heritage background thus worsens her odds of finding a matching. One article suggests “Biology and culture are both stacked against” the patient, because of her genes, and because mixed-heritage donors are disproportionately few on the registries due to historical disengagement with the biomedical project of donation amongst minoritised groups. The perceived fix? New digital media, that can allow patients such as her to take matters into their own hands, allowing a member of a globally dispersed mixed-heritage ‘community’ to locate others like her, and issue a kind of ethico-racial imperative (Williams 2021) to register as a donor: “Social media”, coverage notes, “can overcome your biological odds”. Supplemented with findings from a ethnographic and digital methods study of racially minoritised cancer patient stem cell appeals, the paper asks: what does all this mean, both for how we understand the notion of a ‘community’–digitised or racialised? What does the ‘democratising’ discourse of new digital media–patients claiming some control over whether they find a matching donor–say about how digital technologies are distributing the work of health equity today?

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