General Anthropology Division
Oral Presentation Session
Blood is richly polysemic. Combining medico-scientific logics, materiality and metaphor, blood is the perfect opportunity to unify anthropological considerations of medicine and language. Inspired by this sanguineous semiosis, I did nearly two years of dissertation fieldwork with blood services in South Africa. I ethnographically sought to understand how blood takes on various meanings, thereby enabling insight into South African social dynamics: e.g., blood as race, blood as a carrier of exclusionary stigma—particularly HIV, blood as nation, and blood as bonds of kinship.
For this presentation, I focus on technical systems spanning across South African blood services’ departments. I examine the traceability mechanisms in hemovigilance, a system of surveillance procedures including monitoring, reporting, investigation, analysis and prevention of adverse events (e.g. transmission of disease, transfusion of incompatible blood, etc.) related to the donation and processing of blood. I also scrutinize blood service quality management systems, which involve strict adherence to standard operating procedures (SOP’s) and undergo thorough auditing.
A referentialist ideology of language is essential to these systems’ efficacy. To put it differently, everything in these systems--from the link between the wording of SOPs and how they should be enacted to a bar code’s correspondence to a unit of blood--must have direct and clear referents. I argue that my participants’ investment in a referentialist ideology is not only about eradicating ambiguity in blood service systems, but that privileging the referential functions of documentation and traceability is crucial to their objectives of risk management, institutional governance, and biosecuritization.