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Accepted Contribution:

Trees, transfers, and gifts: placental thinking in biomedical research  
Taylor Riley (University College London)

Short abstract:

Drawing on STS scholarship and ethnographic research with longitudinal birth cohort participants, the paper considers the transfer of the placenta from individual to institution, the transformations that take place therein, and the value of 'placental thinking' in biomedical research participation.

Long abstract:

One of the quintessential images brought to life by researchers and participants of ALSPAC, a regional birth cohort study that has been running since 1991 in the greater Bristol area of the UK, is that of buckets of placentas. Considering the placenta as an emblem of the gifting of biological samples from longitudinal medical research participants to scientific organisations and affiliated researchers in the UK, this paper discusses the placenta’s multiple transformations before, during, and after this transfer. These transformations—from cells into organ, into human by-product often quickly classed by hospitals as waste, into generous gift facilitated by research bureaucracy, into object of inquiry, and into liminal archived matter existing between this state and that of waste which it had previously avoided—reveal unique insights into the cultural construction of the feminized body, the social and biological reproduction of bodily labours, and medical ethics around placenta classification, transfer, and ownership. I ask, how might other states of placental existence and other placental transformations outside of the biomedical structures often governing them challenge and interrupt these characterizations and processes? The paper draws on feminist biologies and STS scholarship, alongside in-depth interviews with participants who have gifted their placentas through birth cohort participation, to frame ‘placental thinking’ as a model for engaging with biomedical research practices and with the studied body and its ever-transforming parts.

Combined Format Open Panel P252
Feminist biologies: models, practices and engagements
  Session 1 Tuesday 16 July, 2024, -