Society for Medical Anthropology
Oral Presentation Session
The rise of crowdfunding has ushered in a new stage for “socially-mediated publicness” (Baym & boyd, 2012) on which dramas of deservingness, debates over entitlements, and competing illness narratives play out. Medical crowdfunding campaigns on sites like Gofundme – where individuals fundraise to cover the costs of health care – tend to construct, and exist within, intimate publics – those “juxtapolitical worlds” described by Berlant (2008) as offering significant meaning and even spaces for flourishing apart from ambivalently-regarded political spheres. Yet at other times, users construct crowdfunding campaigns as remarkably political spaces, where donation is tantamount to political voice and where political identities can be honed and expressed. Drawing on five years of online ethnographic research on medical crowdfunding campaigns, as well as ethnographic interview data with crowdfunders and industry experts, this paper highlights both widely circulating and relatively unknown campaigns in which the political dilemmas of health care coverage, access, and deservingness feature prominently. Rather than ask simply whether and to what extent crowdfunding is a political sphere, this paper asks what this new space of publicness does, what new kind of politics it creates and makes possible. By looking simultaneously at unremarkable campaigns and unexpected spaces of popular attention on Gofundme, this paper will argue that crowdfunding is shifting not only political norms in US society, but transforming the very material through which political discourses make meaning out of experience, and project the desires and stories of the few onto the broader political experiences of the many.