[P6326] Blood and Biomedicine in the Modern Middle East

Created by Elise Burton
Friday, 12/03/21 2:00 pm


This interdisciplinary panel analyzes how twentieth-century biomedicine has transformed Middle Eastern beliefs and practices surrounding human blood. Previous scholarship has predominantly focused on 'blood' as a cultural signifier of lineage and on the religious meanings attributed to blood, including contexts of sacrifice and ideas about (im)purity. In contrast, this panel highlights new research in the history and anthropology of Middle Eastern medicine to investigate blood as a literal bodily fluid and site of scientific intervention. After the First World War, technologies of blood transfusion and genetic understandings of heredity built upon, rather than replaced wholesale, existing concepts of blood as a life-sustaining humour and a genealogical metaphor. Experimental treatments using transfusions of blood from deceased people and non-human animals prompted new ethical questions for medical practitioners and religious authorities. Biomedical research on the chemical properties of blood inspired new notions of blood as a potentially dangerous substance, capable of transmitting infectious and hereditary diseases. Middle Eastern scientists also began to study blood for genetic markers, which they used to classify the identities, origins, and kin relations of national, ethnic, and religious groups. The panel’s four papers examine how biomedical institutions and public health policies in Iran, Turkey, Cyprus, and Kuwait responded to these scientific developments, and in doing so, influenced existing social and cultural meanings attached to blood. The case studies show how Middle Eastern medical practitioners, being deeply integrated into transregional scientific networks, have implemented internationally legitimated practices of blood banking, human experimentation, population-level surveillance of HIV/AIDS, and genetic counseling for families affected by sickle cell disease. The panelists bring different disciplinary and methodological approaches to the analysis of Middle Eastern blood as historians of science and medicine, social and cultural historians, and medical-cultural anthropologists. Through its specific focus on blood, the panel demonstrates how biomedical practices intersect with both state-level politics and localized public concerns about modernization, migration, and national and communal loyalties. Accordingly, the panel models a path forward for further historical and social studies of Middle Eastern biomedicine to illuminate under-explored dimensions of some of the most prominent themes in Middle Eastern studies.


Anthro; Anthro; Anthro; Hist; Medicine/Health




Laila Prager

(Hamburg University)
Laila Prager is Professor of Social Anthropology at the University of Hamburg (Germany) and a member of AGYA (Arab-German Young Academy of Sciences and Humanities). Formerly, she worked as a researcher and senior lecturer in Social Anthropology at the...
Panel Participating Role(s): Presenter;

Laura Frances Goffman

(University of Arizona)
Panel Participating Role(s): Presenter;

Elise Burton

(University of Toronto)
Panel Participating Role(s): Organizer; Presenter;

Sara Farhan

(American University of Sharjah)
Panel Participating Role(s): Discussant;

Samin Rashidbeigi

(Princeton University)
Panel Participating Role(s): Organizer; Presenter;