Trafficking the Traffickers - Undercover Ethnography in the Organs Trafficking Underworld
Monday, October 6, 2008
Presented by the Wenner-Gren Foundation and Anthropology Section
Speaker: Nancy Scheper-Hughes
Dr. Hughes' talk is drawn from a decade of ethnographic research and medical human rights activism on the global traffic in human organs procured (illegally) from the living and the dead. She will address the ethical, ethnographic, and political dilemmas of an idiosyncratic, multi-sited anthropological research project that is exploring the covert activities surrounding commercialized transplants with purloined or purchased organs and tissues by renegade surgeons, international organized crime networks, local kidney hunters and so called transplant tourists engaged in 'back-door' and illicit transplants. In its odd juxtapositions of ethnography, human rights documentation, photojournalism, and medical surveillance, the Organs Watch project blends genres and transgresses long-standing distinctions between anthropology, documentation, journalism, scientific reporting, political engagements, and human rights.
How does one investigate criminal behavior anthropologically? When (if ever) is it permissible to conduct research 'under cover'? How does one re-imagine one's obligations to one's research subjects and informants, especially when they are criminals? When crimes are being committed, to whom does the anthropologist owe their inevitably divided loyalties? Following a discussion of engaged ( and enraged) research, she introduces some 'backstage' scenes of the global organs trade to illustrate the very different forms, practices, meanings, values, and emotions the traffic encompasses. She hope to recapture the 'basic strangeness' of a routine medical procedure – kidney transplant-- now increasingly dependent on medically supported rights to, and claims upon, the healthy bodies of marginalized 'others'. She will conclude with an argument against conventional medical bioethics and its capitulations to market solutions to medical and social needs.