History & Sociology of Science
University of Pennsylvania
2010 to 2011
Life on Ice: Frozen Blood, Human History, and Biodiversity in a Genomic Age
Abstract. Anthropologists have long collected materials and stories from communities thought to be disappearing. In the late 1950s, new technologies for cold storage enabled the accumulation and freezing of blood from research subjects living in remote regions of the world. In the late 1980s, the emergence of PCR led scientists to return to these samples to study the DNA contained within. This dissertation examines what it has meant to possess blood collected from subjects distributed unevenly in time and space; who “authors” narratives about identity and health, in what contexts, and with what effects; how the logic of genomics leads diverse bodies to become standardized sources of biovalue; and how technologies of preservation, such as cold storage, destabilize ontological categories of life and death, human and non-human. Attention to the historical collection, transport, storage, and circulation of blood illuminates conditions of possibility for being human in the 21st century.