CRG Thursday Forum Series presents...
Bio-Recognition: Speculating Race, Gender, and Health
Commentary: Prof. Charis Thompson, Gender & Women’s Studies
Bioethical Matriarchy: Race, Gender, and the Gift in Genomic Research
Prof. James Battle, UC Santa Cruz
The 2013 sequencing of the epigenome and genome from Henrietta Lacks’ HeLa cell line illuminated the bioethical intersections of genomics, race, and gender. Subsequent announcements by Francis Collins of the National Institutes of Health and reports in the scientific media referring to Henrietta Lack as a matriarch expose the missing political and resource allocations alluded to by the matriarchal designation, an assemblage I term Bioethical Matriarchy. Drawing from field, media, biomedical archival research, I am concerned with the ways African-descent and matriarchal status reproduce the social order, reflecting racialized and gendered histories of kinship, desire, and status inequality. I address these concerns through an anthropological engagement with African American/Diaspora studies and Feminist technoscientific scholarship in both the social sciences and humanities. Following Hyland (2014), I argue that unequal and gendered forms of exchange (re) produce wealth and obligations to give, but not necessarily to reciprocate. I discuss why the bioethical, intellectual property, and legal implications of these asymmetrical relationships necessarily take our discussion beyond issues of consent and inclusion to engaging larger questions of reparative and restorative justice.
Epidemiologic Rage: Biomedical Legibility and the Politics of Trans Health in the US and Argentina
Christoph Hanssmann, UC San Francisco
Trans- activism in Argentina and the US seems to find traction in a legislative and policy sense when it speaks an epidemiologic vernacular of “reduced life expectancy.” The problem of abbreviated trans life is thus made answerable by health care access, whereas the related political objectives of decriminalization and equitable resource distribution have remained comparatively elusive. This paper looks empirically to transgender health activism in Buenos Aires and New York that mobilizes a ‘popular epidemiology’ (Brown 1997) of reduced life chances as a crisis requiring more robust forms of biomedical legibility and recognition. In it, I examine how how “trans health” becomes a relatively singular mode of redress to make apparent a gamut of forces that differentially harm trans and gender non-normative subjects, particularly those who are most exposed to state violence and economic and racialized marginalization. Drawing from ethnographic work in Buenos Aires and New York City, I interrogate the stakes of routing broad claims to a more livable life through the calculus of popular epidemiology, and examine the continuities and divergences between how this takes shape in each site. I compare trans- health activist movements in Argentina and the U.S. to related health activist movements (for example, campaigns for environmental health, sterilization prevention, and abortion access) to explore the connections between social movements mobilizing epidemiologic vernaculars. Finally, I examine how such health-based claims can “answer sideways” to issues of racialized criminalization, economic marginalization, and sexualized violence—a framing that Alondra Nelson (2011) calls “social health.” The paper argues that the ethical demands of “reduced life expectancy” open up opportunities to leverage otherwise implausible political actions, and also may constrict the breadth of trans politics and health politics writ large.
Christoph Hanssmann is a PhD candidate in the Sociology program at the University of California, San Francisco. He studies the sexed, raced, and gendered politics of technoscience, focusing on the relation between biomedical and social movement practices. He is completing his dissertation on the transnational mobility of trans- health across the global South and North.
James Doucet-Battle is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Sociology at the University of California, Santa Cruz and received his Ph.D. from the University of California, Berkeley and the University of California, San Francisco's Joint Medical Anthropology Program in 2012. His research areas include health disparities; race and medicine; power, subject-making, and citizenship; and ethnography, political economy, and grounded theory: diasporic and transnational Africa. He is currently affiliated with the Science and Justice Research Center and the Race, Genomics, and Media Working Group at UC Santa Cruz, and is a member of the Center for Translational Genomic Research Working Group at the University of California, San Francisco. His current book project, Translating Sweetness examines knowledge production emerging from the recruitment of biological and racial difference in diabetes research.