Blood offers a uniquely valuable lens through which to understand contemporary social relationships due to its powerful symbolic associations and its fundamental role in healthcare. This research posits blood donation as a privileged site for comprehending social transformation in diversifying and ageing societies that struggle to meet rising demands for transfusions. Focusing on Japan and South Korea, where blood has strong symbolic power in relation to kinship, nationhood and pollution, this research asks how national identity and social relationships are imagined and contested through blood donation. This extends the existing parameters of social analyses of blood donation, which have tended to focus on altruism and social solidarity. Instead of limiting its inquiry to individuals’ motivations to donate blood or the strong bond this creates, this research asks how blood donation conjures up concepts of social boundaries around implicit understandings of who should donate to whom and why. By employing a new framework – hematopolitics – this research highlights the mundane processes through which these boundaries are drawn and challenged by blood donors, health professionals, patients and larger publics. In doing so, it aims to shed light on the micropolitical contestations over belonging to imagined and embodied collectives around shared pools of blood.

The hematopolitics framework borrows its inspiration from a range of notable preceding work on the politics of blood, in anthropology and its cognate fields. Just to note a few: Jennifer Robertson’s work on “hemato-nationalism” in Japan that considers blood as “an active agent responsible for catalyzing an ethos, or a national-cultural identity”; Thomas Strong’s notion of  “vital publics” as  “embodied associations” among strangers “elicited through the generalized exchange of blood”; Jacob Copeman and Dwaipayan Banerjee’s exposition of “political hematology” that explores how “blood slips between metaphor and literal medium of political transactions – congealing ideology in material forms”. “Hematopolitics” draws on these insights to further examine blood’s material and affective potentialities in reconfiguring sociopolitical orders and relationalities. Blood’s evocative power, here, can be mobilised to reinforce blood-based identities around categories of nationhood, race/ethnicity, and kinship at times, while also opening up transformative moments to challenge and alter these categories.


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