Monday, December 20, 2010

Arizona organ transplant policy and global norms

Reading Marc Lacey's article, "Transplants Cut, Arizona Is Challenged by Survivors," in Sunday's New York Times brought out the contradiction between Arizona's policy and global norms on transplantation.

Arizona has decided to cut Medicaid funding for transplants. That decision in all likelihood affects a lot of potential transplant recipients because if you're that sick, you're probably not working and if you're not old enough for Medicare, that means that you probably end up on Medicaid. In short, if you are blessed with insurance or personal wealth, you can have an organ or tissue transplant in Arizona. If not? Tough luck. Hope you had a nice life.

But the World Health Organization's Guiding Principles clearly proscribe this policy. Guiding Principle 9 is:
The allocation of organs, cells and tissues should be guided by clinical criteria and ethical norms, not financial or other considerations. Allocation rules, defined by appropriately constituted committees, should be equitable, externally justified, and transparent.

To be fair to the State of Arizona, lawmakers received a report from state health officials stating that transplants "were rarely successful." The problem is, that information just isn't correct. According to Lacey's article, "The cure rate for bone marrow transplants cited in the report to the Legislature was either zero or 7 percent . . . But transplant experts put the actual survival rate, based on national studies, at over 40 percent."

I find it morally abhorrent that some bodies (those owned by people lucky enough to have good health insurance) are "deserving" of life saving medical treatments while others (the ones relying on Arizona's Medicaid system) are not.

And on a personal note, I am extremely fond of one particular bone marrow transplant recipient. I am very happy that she's in that 40% of survivors.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Amazing creatures

It is often the case, especially in IR, that "bodies" as they are discussed in the literature are human. Most of my research explores the ways we open this debate up to include other bodies in the world--like bacterial communities in our guts and the ocean, choanoflagellates, oil-eating bacteria in the gulf, to name just a few. And these are just the tiny ones.

When I started doing this research 5 years ago it seemed pretty out there and I had trouble finding much written on the subject. Science studies gave me what I needed to keep going. A steady diet of Latour and Serres and Haraway. And theorist Jane Bennett guiding me to read thinkers such as Jullien, Spinoza, and Dewey kept my political science interesting.
Now it just warms my heart to see articles about fantastic creatures popping up everywhere with quotes like this:

The world is full of microbes, and we spend a lot of worry and effort trying to keep them off and out of our bodies. It is humbling to ponder that still swimming within that microscopic soup are our distant cousins.*

So many bodies out there that affect our politics and bodies. Here's to greeting them with this kind of spirit.


Sunday, December 12, 2010

NY Times article: "Organ Donation: Let the Market Rule?"

Ariel Kaminer: Organ Donation, Let the Market Rule?" NYT, Dec. 11, 2010

Among the several points to ponder in this article is this:
Gary Becker, the Nobel laureate who teaches economics at the University of Chicago, has proposed something even more radical: paying people to part with their organs now, while they are still using them. You’ve got two kidneys but you can get by with one. You’ve got only one liver but you don’t really need that meaty chunk at the end. How does $30,000 sound?
In an interview, he said the idea should not be that shocking. As long as exchanges were carefully regulated, no one would be forced into it. It would solve an otherwise intractable problem. And unlike the current system, in which friends and relatives are often guilted into becoming donors, a market-based approach would compensate families fairly for their discomfort and risk.
This is odd for a few of reasons.  The first is that Becker's suggestion goes totally against the WHO Guiding Principles, and no mention is made in the article that there is such a thing.    The second is the claim that friends and relatives "are often guilted [sic] into becoming donors."  Where's the evidence for that????

And then there's a third problem: Becker thinks that it is possible that such a system could be "carefully regulated" and that "no one would be forced into" selling their kidney or chunk of liver.  Wow.  If he's worried about people being "guilted" in donating now, why shouldn't he worry about people be "guilted" into selling their organs?  How could a regulatory system possibly prevent a person whose family needs money from selling an organ out of a sense of guilt rather than (as Becker might have it) as homo economicus rationally making a profit by alienating a piece of his body-property.

There are other things in this article, too, including a pilot program in which
an organ-recovery team will trail ambulances responding to 911 calls, ready to leap in if the patient dies and is a viable donor.
 Gives "ambulance chaser" an entirely new meaning.


Justice Brennan writing for the court on the Constitution, criminal obscenity & the nature of sex

Roth v. United States, 354 U.S. 476, 487 (1957)

(Thanks to my son for posting this on his blog.)

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Brides' bodies

Go . . .Here's my attempt to spark a conversation.

Honeymoon murder

As mentioned in previous post, I'm challenging readers and authors of this blog to get the conversation going by adding a few comments about a situation, in this sad case the murder of a bride on her honeymoon and the arrest of the groom.  The bride was from Sweden, the groom from the UK, the murder happened in South Africa, and couple's wedding picture shows them in traditional Indian attire.  The husband is reported elsewhere to be wealthy.  None of the articles I read referred to the history of bride burnings, though (and perhaps it was just me) the emphasis on the murder of the Indian (Indian-Swedish) bride seemed to whisper the allusion.

This is NOT about the innocence or guilt of the husband. And it's not about Indian bride burnings -- well at least not wholly. 

I want to comment briefly on the bride as simultaneously celebrated -- worshiped, almost -- and fragile.  The celebration (the gown, the festivities, the bride in the center of it all) highlight a feminine power: she is the desired, celebrated object.  But despite her power, she is weak, especially (generally) compared to the groom. Her body is "given away" in some traditions.  No matter how egalitarian the relationship, her physical security depends on the genuineness of the groom's love and declarations of care because of his greater physical strength. 

When brides die or are killed, we are jarred by the contradiction between the power inherent in the celebration of them and the relative powerless and vulnerability of the female body.

And this is the case even today when many (most?) people are living together before marriage -- if they marry at all.  (And there is, indeed, some question as to whether this couple were officially married despite the ceremony they went through.)

It seems to me that the murder a cohabiting girlfriend, even if the death involved as many global connections as this one, would not be nearly as sensational as this, the murder of a bride.

OK, Folks:  How do you see the embodied story behind this situation?

A Challenge . . .

I have a proposal.  In addition to posting summaries of what we're working on (really interesting -- thanks, Lauren & Stefanie), I suggest we post brief "situations" (anecdotes, cases, etc.) and then in about a paragraph or two comment on the situation from given your theoretical/analytical take.  The idea is to get a conversation started and invite others to comment on the post.

So, my challenge is twofold: post a situation; comment on someone else's situation.

Ready, set, . . .

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Lauren Wilcox's Project

My dissertation’s central question is: how does explicitly theorizing bodies as political allow us to think about these forms of contemporary political violence in ways that allow us to answer these questions? One of the deep ironies of security studies is that while war is actually inflicted on bodies, bodily violence and vulnerability, as the flip side of security, are largely ignored. By contrast, feminist theory is at its most powerful when it denaturalizes accounts of individual subjectivity so as to analyze the relations of force, violence, and language that compose our profoundly unnatural bodies. Security Studies lacks the reflexivity necessary to see its contribution to the very context it seeks to domesticate. Security Studies has largely ignored work in feminist theory that opens up the forces that have come to compose and constitute the body: by and large, security studies has an unarticulated, yet implicit, conception of bodies as whole and inviolable. Attentive to the relations provoked by both discourse and political forces, feminist theory redirects attention to how both compose and produce bodies on terms often alien and unstable. Contemporary feminist theorizing about embodiment provides a provocative challenge to the stability and viability of several key concepts in IR such as sovereignty, security, violence, and vulnerability. Security studies emphasizes the strategic deployment of force in the language of rational control and risk management—and so pushes the threat of contingency and destabilization beyond its own interpretive territory. Feminist theory, by contrast, offers a critical re-thinking of analytic concepts in connection to notions as basic as power and security. In this project, I draw on recent work in feminist theory that offers a challenge to the deliberate maintenance and policing of boundaries and delineation of human bodies from the broader political context.

I argue that a focal shift to bodies in the practices of torture, suicide bombing, and precision warfare compels a different interpretation of the relationship between subjects, bodies, and violence than is currently explicit or implicit in IR, in which bodies are known purely as biological entities, relevant to violence only as they live and die. I turn to currents of contemporary feminist theory to suggest an alternative mode of knowing the human subject of international violence and security. I argue that human bodies as we know them are effects of political practices rather than natural entities. Violent practices of international relations produce the many bodies of IR as we know them. At the same time, bodily practices have effects that are, in turn, productive of international relations. I argue that bodies are also agentic, in that they can be consequential in ways that are not reducible to the will of the subject. I thereby show how practices of international relations can (and should) be rethought in the discipline of IR in terms of the production of bodies in their historicity and agency.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Yet again, on the subject of dead bodies . . .

I just saw this, listed in the New Scholarly Books section of the November 19, 2010, issue of the Chronicle of Higher Education:

AFTER WE DIE: THE LIFE AND TIMES OF THE HUMAN CADAVER by Norman L. Cantor (Georgetown University Press; 372 pages; $26.95).  Examines the physical disposition and legal and moral status of the deceased; argues that the corpse retains a quasi-human status that grants it various "cadaveric rights."
It's listed with the law books.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Stefanie Fishel's current project

My research lies at the intersection of political science and the life sciences. I use interpretive methodologies and science studies to open debates about life and its definition, regulation, vulnerabilities, and safekeeping in an international context.

The metaphor of the “body politic” has long been a part of political discourse even as attention to its metaphoricity has been slight. To add to this the role of (human and nonhuman) bodies as material actants (to use Bruno Latour’s term) has also been under-theorized, especially in International Relations (IR). Recent advances in medicine, biotechnology, and the natural sciences supply frameworks for examining more closely how the body, both as a metaphor and an actant, shapes our understanding of international conflict and cooperation.

I begin by investigating how body metaphors have worked in International Relations to justify or excuse acts of state violence. Simplistic metaphors likening illegal immigrants to viruses, by way of example, invite violent responses: is not the polity’s “immune system” merely defending the health of the collective? I then suggest that the traditional figure of the human body--as a self-contained and self-regulating organism--is at odds with the body made possible by new technologies. Today, organs and genomic information flow across borders and bacterial and viral communities, both symbiotic and pathogenic, clearly affect our bodies and through them our politics. The H1N1 pandemic scare with its vaccine scarcity and distribution complications are case in point. We can no longer uphold the fiction of autonomous selfhood, or the figure of the human body as a Newtonian entity with boundaries; what must that mean for institutions we “create in out own image?” Consider that the DNA of other life forms in our body outnumber us 10 to 1. What ethics and responsibilities will these discoveries complicating our definition of the human require?

The dissertation examines three developments in the physical sciences that can help social sciences revise some of their key concepts. Each of these examples reveal the extent to which human bodies are not fixed and closed systems, but “lively” containers that reflect interactions with other humans and nonhuman forms of life. In the first case, the emerging science of metagenomics--genetic analysis applied to entire communities of microbes and studied in a way analogous to a single genome--can help us re-imagine what counts as community. From this perspective it is impossible not see the similarities between relationships in the internal relations between members of microbiotic communities in the human gut and the relations between members of a political society. Just as human individuals are embedded in our environment, our bodies are home to our own communities of micro flora and fauna.

In the second case, I turn to changes in understanding human immunology to evaluate current IR theory based on negative biopolitics and exceptionalism stemming from Agamben and Schmitt. Whereas IR reproduces an image that recalls the cell membranes, it is conceivable that from my perspective that ostensibly “foreign” bodies are productive and vital to the health of the community. Just as people with a mix of microbes and eukaryotic parasites in their alimentary canal appear to suffer less intestinal disease and autoimmune disorders, so too does the health of the polis rely on flow and diversity of people. This argument overlaps with Derrida and his writings on auto-immunity. In this case, human skin is used metaphorically to depict the border as a liminal zone, or porous and “fuzzy,” rather than a barrier or obstruction between outside and inside to supply the framework for a critique of current immigration policies and border politics between the United States and Mexico.

The last example uses organ transplantation and transfer to illustrate radical forms of body politics and how they might affect ideas of what it means to be human. Medical science has made it possible to take the body apart and redistribute bodily materials. Shot through with socioeconomic and capitalist assumptions, the literature on the subject rarely asks what it might mean politically and ethically now that the human body can be disaggregated into fragments that are derived from a particular person, but are no longer constitutive of human identity. I identify these silences to add subtleties to a debate often trapped between commodification and state control.

In my work, I find cooperation from philosophers such as Spinoza and his idea of “complex bodies,” Machiavelli’s virtu and fortuna, Foucault and his lectures at the College de France, and Deleuze and Guattari and their use of the concept haecceity. I also draw on other philosophers and thinkers in the history of science and science studies such as Latour, especially helpful for a language of “things” in politics, Haraway and her work on companion species, and Canguilhem’s work writings on biology and normalization to explore new ways to imagine a more positive biopolitics. The relation of immunity and community in the writings of Esposito and the role of love and the multitude in Hardt and Negri’s Commonwealth are instructive in this regard.

The above examples begin to develop a framework for a non-mechanical and materialist conception of life for the study of international politics. They force us to acknowledge from both inside and outside our bodies that Cartesian dualism and Newtonian atomism is inadequate. As our understanding of the complexity and porosity of the human body has grown, so, too, must our idea of the “body politic” and the political ethics appropriate to it. For example, the interminglings/incorporations of strangers/nonhuman life into our bodies like those identified above may lead us to create and embrace forms of global community not based on citizenship or ethnicity. What might a posthuman future look like based on these material understandings of bodies--both human and nonhuman--and their worlds? How will traditional notions of state sovereignty and policies of national security have to be altered? What other kinds of organization can we imagine beyond the Westphalian state system? How could different metaphors, such as Timothy Morton’s mesh and Deleuze and Guattari’s rhizome work to transform our notions of political community? Put another way, the dissertation interrogates the ways in which we constitute ourselves--both as individuals and as groups--as biopolitical subjects and examines the consequences for the political debates surrounding immigration, security, organ trade, and biomaterial, for example.

Much less gut-wrenching: images of college football players

"Image Rights vs. Free Speech in Video Game Suit"

Here what's arguably being stolen is not a material piece of the body, but rather the image of the body.  The right of publicity (the right to control how one's image is used) butts up against the right of free speech.  On the one hand there's the sense that a picture of me -- and particularly a video of me -- is somehow mine.  The image of my physical form is intrinsically connected to me.  An image of me could not exist if my physical form did  not exist.  On the other hand, all new creative efforts start somewhere, and sometimes they start with an image (perhaps a fleeting memory, perhaps a paid model, perhaps a verbal description).  Could anyone ever create without somehow appropriating an image?  If a model is paid or has volunteered to let her form be copied, that's not a problem.  But what about the case of the uncompensated transformation of the image of a living body into a still recognizable digital avatar?  How much transformation of an image renders it a new creation, unconnected to the original body?

Organ-Trafficking Ring in Kosovo

NY Times article

This is the first time I have seen probable evidence of the actual stealing of kidneys -- not "just" paying a very low amount.  This is not a case of a kidnapped person having his kidney removed, but rather someone who was promised -- and then denied -- monetary compensation for selling a kidney.  Yes, there are interesting theoretical issues raised by this article (the fact that medical science can provide cures using transplanted kidneys creates "demand" for kidneys which is not met by the "supply" creates an opportunity for a black market to flourish), but I can't get any scholarly distance on this:  The story is very, very sad and some people are simply evil.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

An unabashedly self-serving plug

If you are reading this blog, you might be interested in our paper:

Renee Marlin-Bennett, Marieke Wilson, and Jason Walton (2010).  Commodified Cadavers and the Political Economy of the Spectacle.  International Political Sociology 4, 159–177.

Here's the abstract:
Traveling anatomy exhibitions import plasticized, posed human cadavers
and place them on display. We explore the current industry, its
history, and the spectacle of anatomy exhibits. The commodification of
cadavers is examined as a problem in global political economy. The
absence of global rules identifying plastinated cadavers as human
remains allows a globalized plastination and exhibition industry. The
spectacle of the exhibitions themselves divert attention away from
important moral questions about the proper use of human remains and
about the provenance of the cadavers used to create plastinates. The
absence of global norms and the distraction of spectacle results in a
global regime permitting commodification of cadavers.

A focus of inquiry . . .

This blog has been created for scholars of the social sciences and humanities who are interested in the body and bodies in our studies of global relations, conditions, and processes.  International relations does not happen without bodies: Wars are fought by people, and people (obviously) have bodies; trade happens because people make deals to buy and sell; diplomacy involves people speaking, a physical act.  Even networked communication via the Internet ultimately involves human begins, sitting around in their sacks of skin, who have a physical, embodied presence in the world.  And the sovereign state, most famously in the frontspiece of Hobbes's Leviathan, is understood as a metaphorical body.

How do bodies matter in the world?  What are the key research questions that animate us?  How do we theorize bodies?  What are the empirics we use for analyzing the body in the world? What are we finding in our research?

What are we reading?  What do we find enlightening or infuriating?

I hope this blog will start a conversation and create a virtual community as we engage this interesting subject.