Accepted Paper:

Transforming trash to treasure. Managing embryonic ambiguity by pollution behaviour in everyday practice of foetal cell research.  

Authors:

Andréa Wiszmeg (Malmö University)
Kristofer Hansson (Malmö University)

Paper short abstract:

Mary Douglas' concept of pollution behaviour is used to explain and make sense of different strategies used by neurobiologists in a large-scale foetal cell transplantation trial in Parkinson's disease research, using cells harvested from aborted embryos.

Paper long abstract:

This article examines different emotional-, cognitive- and discursive strategies used by neurobiologists in a large-scale foetal cell transplantation trial in Parkinson's disease research, using cells harvested from aborted embryos. Two interviews were analysed in the light of former observations in laboratories, using anthropologist Mary Douglas' concept of pollution behaviour to explain and make sense of the findings. They indicate that the labour performed by the researchers in the trial work to transform the foetal material from trash to treasure; practically as well as culturally. The transformation process contains different aspects, of which we observed the following in the interview material: the foetal cell can be considered an object, a subject as well as an abject to the researchers handling it. As demonstrated in the analysis, it is the human origin of the cell that makes it abject and activates pollution behaviour in acts and in discourse of the researchers. We elaborate on how the marginal and ambiguous status of the embryo turns the scientists handling foetal cells into liminal characters in modern medicine. We also discuss why the use and refinement of a tissue, around which there is practical consensus but cultural ambiguity, deserves further investigation.

Panel Medi04
Techniques of transformation, healing movements, and medicine worlds