Blood and bioidentity: ideas about self, boundaries and risk among blood donors and people living with Hepatitis C

Waldby, C.; Rosengarten, Marsha; Treloar, C. and Fraser, S.. 2004. Blood and bioidentity: ideas about self, boundaries and risk among blood donors and people living with Hepatitis C. Social Science & Medicine, 59(7), pp. 1461-1471. ISSN 02779536 [Article]

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Abstract or Description

Clinical medicine and biotechnology increasingly utilise and transform human bodily tissues in novel ways. Today
more and more tissues—blood, whole organs, ova, embryos, sperm, skin, bone, heart valves, cellular material, bone
marrow and corneas—can be transferred between donors and recipients. Hence more and more people in developed
nations have the experience of giving a fragment of their body to another, or receiving such a fragment as part of some
kind of therapy. These systems for the circulation of tissues raise the question of what we have termed ‘bioidentity’.
Bioidentity describes our common-sense understanding of our bodies as ‘ours’, as both supporting and being included
in our social and subjective identities. Within this framework, how are we to understand the status of detachable bodily
fragments like blood, ova or organs? As parts of our bodies do they retain a trace of our identity after donation, or are
they detachable things? What is our relationship, if any, to the patient who receives our tissues as part of their
treatment? This paper investigates the specific case of blood transfusion and donation. It draws upon in depth
interviews with 55 people who have specific experience with blood. They either have hepatitis C (are HCV+) acquired
by transfusion or intravenous drug use, or have donated blood or received a blood transfusion but are free of hepatitis
C (are HCV). We analyse this material according to the themes—Donated Blood as ‘Self’, Blood as Alienable, Blood
as Communal Substance, and Contaminated Gifts and the Blood of Strangers. We find that, generally speaking the
HCV+ and HCV groups share very similar ideas about blood donation and transfusion. For a minority of both
groups, blood was understood as a decisive site of self irrespective of location, but for the remainder donated blood was
either ambiguous with regard to identity, a shared substance, or not considered to have any lingering relationship
to the self once given. However both groups regarded blood as strongly imbued with ‘risk identity’. In particular the
HCV+ interviewees regarded their blood as a dangerous personal attribute, one that they must be careful to withhold
from circulation, whereas the blood donors felt obliged to donate their blood precisely because they considered it clean
and risk free.

Item Type:


Identification Number (DOI):


Blood, Tissue donation, Identity, Risk, Hepatitis C

Departments, Centres and Research Units:

Sociology > Centre for Study of Invention and Social Process (CSISP) [2003-2015]



Item ID:


Date Deposited:

28 May 2009 09:54

Last Modified:

07 Jul 2017 12:26

Peer Reviewed:

Yes, this version has been peer-reviewed.


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