Brock University

(Un)Bounded Bodies and Parts: Changing body boundaries in contemporary health, life sciences and biotechnologies I

"Opening up" Bodies and Boundaries

Drawing on the conference theme of Borders without Boundaries, this session invites empirical, analytic or theoretical papers that examine changing body boundaries in the context of contemporary health, life sciences and biotechnologies. From tissue banking and organ donation in which material parts are separated from wholes to bioscientific phenomena such as microchimerism in which cells from one person are present in another, social scientists have shown how the assumption of clearly bounded bodies or impermeable body boundaries no longer holds. The person cannot be thought to map non-problematically and fully onto what is assumed to be a clearly bounded biological body. The separation of parts from wholes also raises important questions about new forms of biological values, movements and exchanges giving rise to new concepts and phenomena such as the bioeconomy, biovalue and biocapital. We seek papers from the sociology of health and illness, science and technology studies and any other fields of sociology that address a range of topics including: changing ideas of personhood/identity/the individual; extraction, movement (including trafficking) of people and/or parts; the hierarchical valuing of parts; stabilization of unstable body boundaries; the ecology/environment of unbounded bodies and parts; and governance of unbounded bodies.

Session Organizer: Jennie Haw, York University, ; Matthew Strang, York University,


Knowing about Altruistic Organ Transplantation

Lindsey McKay, Department of Sociology and Anthropology, Institute of Political Economy, Carleton University, Ottawa ,

This paper offers a critique of how organ transplantation from deceased donors is governed within altruistic, explicit consent regimes using the province of Ontario as a case study. Medical sociologists Casper and Moores’ (2009) ‘ocular ethic,’ is used to argue that the common sense understanding of transplantation as the moral cause of organ donation deflects attention from fully ‘seeing’ and knowing about deceased donors. This is evident at the macro-scale through a critical reading of annual and special reports. An ‘other-directed’ orientation towards the needs of transplant candidates exhorts consent to donation and hospital intervention as means to resolve the organ shortage. This orientation and knowledge overshadows a persistent underlying issue: the size – and potential shrinking – of the potential deceased donor pool. For all its merits, conducting altruistic deceased donor organ transfer in this way obscures the relationality of donors to recipients and thereby inhibits public understanding.


It’s not just getting older: Embodiment, Identity and the Experience of Total Joint Replacement Surgery

Fiona Webster, University of Toronto, , Jessica Bytautas, University of Toronto, , Viji Venkataramanan, Division of Health Care and Outcomes, , Aileen Davis, Toronto Western Research Institute and University of Toronto ,

The physical body has been conceptualized as a site of meaningful experience that cannot be separated from the self or mind; this link between body and mind is known as embodiment (Gadow, 1980). For example, there is some evidence that the state of embodiment experienced by an individual can affect their satisfaction following surgery. We conducted a longitudinal constructivist grounded theory study with 35 participants who underwent total joint replacement surgery for chronic osteoarthritic (OA) pain. From these accounts we have begun to construct an analysis that links participants’ experiences of recovery to theories of embodiment that counter some of the assumptions of the biomedical literature. We theorize that OA and surgery alters a person’s sense of self in a profound way. It is possible that the nature of individuals’ recovery after joint replacement surgery is mediated by this fundamental shift in identity engendered through this progressive experience. Refusal to take pain medications or accept help from others may also be viewed as people wanting to resist this shift in their identity (rather than not wanting to ‘comply’ with medical advice or help from others).


A Sexy History of Traveling Cells

Aryn Martin, York University,

Microchimerism is defined as small numbers of non-self cells located in a particular biological self, and it is a ubiquitous healthy phenomenon most often found in mothers and their sons.  In practice, the technique for identifying traveling cells has almost exclusively relied on finding Y-chromosomes in women.  Although cells from female progeny are presumed to behave in the same way as Y-bearing cells, this assumption is rarely tested because the cells of mother and daughter are more difficult to differentiate.   While the Y is described as a mere instrument for proof of principle, I argue that sex is centrally embedded – and made - in the phenomenon.  Since the first human chimeras were identified in the 1950’s, the co-existence of differently sexed cells in a single human body has incited responses varying from explicit anxieties about sex heterogeneity and contamination, to hokey headlines playing up “the battle of the sexes”, to reification of the “maternal bond”, to instrumental appropriation for early sex identification in pregnancy.  This paper brings feminist theories of sex and gender into conversation with the biological phenomenon of microchimerism.  I propose that this unexpected liveliness of matter could be read as a radical challenge to the binary logic of sex, queering the material makeup of all bodies.  Instead, this threat (or promise) is discursively contained when scientists and media treat microchimeric cells as matter-out-of-place, as exceptions that prove the rule of sexed being instead of exploding it.


Recycle Me: A new ‘sustainable’ recourse surrounding organ donation and bodies?

Matthew Strang, York University,

The RecycleMe.Org campaign is a different form of organ donor recruitment. Using multiple modes of media and encouraging citizens to understand their bodies as renewable resources the public is directed to the campaign’s website to register as a donor. Past campaigns typically pictured the body as something in relation to nature and its physical presence often absent whereas the campaign dissects the body into reusable parts. I critique historical (“the gift”) and emerging (“sustainability/recycling”) medical social discourses regarding organ transplantation by linking these discourses to theoretical concepts (governmentality, biopolitics, and neoliberalism) and critically analyzing the RecycleMe.Org campaign.  I contend that the emerging discourses (re)produce neoliberal articulations of an ideal (gendered) donor subject, the self as a natural resource, and “healthism”. My paper argues that re-imagining our bodies as “renewable resources” has negative consequences. By connecting the current global contexts of illicit and licit organ transplantation, where both at home and abroad bodies that are often marginalized in specific gendered, racialized, sexualized and classed ways are “mined” while still alive both through trade and donation, I position this cadaveric donation campaigning as having dire effects on bodies.


© Canadian Sociological Association ⁄ La Société canadienne de sociologie