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Accepted Contribution:

Negotiating biotechnical imaginary of hope  
Xisai Song (The University of Texas at Austin)

Short abstract:

This talk examines how former migrant laborers navigate their afterlives of migration with debilitated bodies. It argues that, beyond access to biotechnologies, it requires equitable social security for people to sustain hope for life when suffering from critical illness.

Long abstract:

This talk presents an ethnographic account that interrogates how life-sustaining biotechnology intersects with social inequalities. Based on twelve months of ethnographic research in the hemodialysis ward of a county public hospital in southwest China, this study focuses on a group of young and middle-aged former migrant laborers struggling with kidney failure. From the biomedical perspective, patients suffering from kidney failure can live a long, normal life on dialysis. However, for young and middle-aged physical laborers, they understand such a biomedical imaginary of hope as a privilege for rich people, despite that they have state-sponsored access to dialysis. For them, living a life on dialysis is a state of hopelessness, as it deprives their work abilities, disrupts their social relations, and shatters their life aspirations. This study finds that former migrant laborers do not put hope on life-sustaining biotechnologies to live a life as long as possible. Instead, they often reject treatments and materialize alternative visions for the future at the expense of longer lives. The development of life-sustaining technologies have turned many terminal diseases into chronic conditions. However, the hope that biotechnologies can offer is unevenly distributed to people of different socio-economic status. Through examining how former migrant laborers navigate their afterlives of migration with debilitated bodies, this study argues that, beyond access to biotechnologies, it requires equitable social security for people to sustain hope for life when suffering from critical illness.

Combined Format Open Panel P189
The ends of hope: post-optimistic futures worth working towards
  Session 3 Friday 19 July, 2024, -