Author:Ros Williams (University of Sheffield)
Paper short abstract:
This paper looks at umbilical cord blood banks, and argues that a Derridean archival lens instead of a ‘bank’ logic helps us to understand the infrastructural flux of maintaining such tissue collections in the context of changing clinical requirement and increasingly exacting scientific standards.
Paper long abstract:
The collection of umbilical cord blood (UCB), a source of stem cells for cancer treatment, has become a highly strategised process known as 'banking'. STS scholarship has explored the moral/economic tensions of such banks but less focus is given to their infrastructural operation. This paper aims to flesh out our understanding of how stem cell collections maintain usefulness whilst the requirements of clinicians using them change, and the standards that are utilised shift (as biological standards tend to do [Mackenzie et al 2013]).
The paper adopts an archival lens popularised by Jacques Derrida (1996), using qualitative data on the UK context. How might it help to think of these collections not as banks, but as archives? Attention is given to how archival maintenance relies on collection managers' alertness to the shifting standards of human tissue typing. I also explore archivists' attempts to make collections appeal to their 'users' - in this case, clinicians. How do archivists avoid lock-in, or path dependency when developing their infrastructures (Garud and Karnoe 2001, Rip 1995)? How do they contend with the risk of obsolescence faced by all archives (Bowker 2007)?
The paper demonstrates how an archival lens offers the heuristic richness that 'bank' thinking cannot provide to highlight important aspects of maintaining collections of biological material in the present, and sustaining them into the future. It thus provides a novel contribution to the STS literature on regenerative medicine and tissue banking and the growing interdisciplinary corpus on issues of infrastructural maintenance and flux.
Infrastructures in practice and in flux