Blood Work

Life and Laboratories in Penang

Blood Work

The Lewis Henry Morgan Lectures

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Book Pages: 256 Illustrations: 23 illustrations Published: August 2019

Author: Janet Carsten

Contributor: Thomas Gibson

Anthropology, Asian Studies > Southeast Asia, Medicine and Health > Global Health

What is blood? How can we account for its enormous range of meanings and its extraordinary symbolic power? In Blood Work Janet Carsten traces the multiple meanings of blood as it moves from donors to labs, hospitals, and patients in Penang, Malaysia. She tells the stories of blood donors, their varied motivations, and the paperwork, payment, and other bureaucratic processes involved in blood donation, tracking the interpersonal relations between lab staff and revealing how their work with blood reflects the social, cultural, and political dynamics of modern Malaysia. Carsten follows hospital workers into factories and community halls on blood drives and brings readers into the operating theater as a machine circulates a bypass patient's blood. Throughout, she foregrounds blood's symbolic power, uncovering the processes that make the hospital, the blood bank, the lab, and science itself work. In this way, blood becomes a privileged lens for understanding the entanglements of modern life.


“As Janet Carsten shows, blood is a thick moral substance: it can be bagged and tagged, but its powerful associations with vitality, connection, personhood, and life are not easily shed. Strikingly original, beautifully and often poetically written, Blood Work not only makes an important set of contributions to science and technology studies, anthropology, and Southeast Asian studies; it takes the long-standing themes in Carsten's career to a new level of conceptual innovation.” — Sarah Franklin, author of Biological Relatives: IVF, Stem Cells, and the Future of Kinship

Blood Work, based on fieldwork in hospital labs and surgeries, blood banks, and blood drives in Penang over ten years (2005–2015), draws on a deep well of insights springing from Janet Carsten’s innovative research on kinship, marriage, and migration in rural Malaysia in the 1980s. One of the most valuable contributions of Carsten’s distinctive sensitivity to the particulars of living and dying in this longtime global crossroads, combined with her keen comparative perspective, is her elucidation of the paradoxical capacity of blood everywhere to unite and divide simultaneously.” — Gillian Feeley-Harnik, Professor Emerita of Anthropology, University of Michigan


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Janet Carsten is Professor of Social and Cultural Anthropology at the University of Edinburgh, author of After Kinship, and editor of Blood Will Out: Essays on Liquid Transfers and Flows.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Foreword / Thomas Gibson  ix
Acknowledgments  xiii
Introduction  1
The Public Life of Blood I: Donation in the News  35
1. Blood Donation  43
The Public Life of Blood II: Newspapers and Laboratory Life  75
2. Lab Spaces and People: Categories and Distinctions at Work  79
The Public Life of Blood III: Elections and Their Aftermath  116
3. The Work of the Labs  125
The Public Life of Blood IV: Medical, Supernatural, and Moral Matters  158
4. "Work is Just Part of the Job": Ghosts, Food, and Relatedness in the Labs  165
Conclusion  200
Notes  209
References  217
Index  233
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Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-1-4780-0481-3 / Cloth ISBN: 978-1-4780-0420-2