Supported by a grant from the Harvey A. Friedman Center for Aging at Washington University, this transnational collaboration is bringing together a multidisciplinary team of researchers from four continents who are studying aging and caregiving across East Asia.
My second book project, The Culture, Ethics, and Political Economy of Critical Care in Urban China, is based on 12 months of ethnographic fieldwork that I conducted in emergency rooms and critical care settings in Beijing, Shanghai, and Henan province during the 2014-2015 academic year. I analyze fraught debates among clinicians, patients, and family members over the use and termination of costly life-sustaining technologies. This book maps the institutional contours and affective dimensions of caring for those suffering from end-stage conditions in the context of a society undergoing rapid demographic, cultural, and politico-economic transformation. While some anthropologists have written movingly about caregiving as a foundational moral practice with the potential to challenge the dehumanizing and technocratic logic of biomedical treatment (Kleinman 2009), others have mapped the institutional contours of a darker politics of care (Mol 2008, Kaufman 2015) in contexts of scarcity and failure. By shifting the focus from cure to care, my second book illuminates the ways in which Chinese health professionals and family members negotiate the practical and moral challenges of care at the limits of medicine.
These photos are drawn from over a decade of research on transnational quests for experimental stem and fetal cell therapies. Some are featured in my book, Biomedical Odysseys: Fetal Cell Experiments from Cyberspace to China (forthcoming in 2017 from Princeton University Press). Through finely grained ethnographic research in transnational hospital wards, laboratories, and online patient discussion forums, Biomedical Odysseys opens up important theoretical and methodological horizons in the anthropology of science, technology, and medicine. I illuminate how poignant journeys for fetal cell cures become entangled in complex circuits of digital mediation, entrepreneurial frameworks of post-socialist medicine, and fraught debates about the ethics and epistemology of clinical experimentation.