New Organs Within Us: Transplants and the Moral Economy (Experimental Futures)

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9780822349129: New Organs Within Us: Transplants and the Moral Economy (Experimental Futures)

New Organs Within Us is a richly detailed and conceptually innovative ethnographic analysis of organ transplantation in Turkey. Drawing on the moving stories of kidney-transplant patients and physicians in Istanbul, Aslihan Sanal examines how imported biotechnologies are made meaningful and acceptable not only to patients and doctors, but also to the patients’ families and Turkish society more broadly. She argues that the psychological theory of object relations and the Turkish concept of benimseme—the process of accepting something foreign by making it one’s own—help to explain both the rituals that physicians perform to make organ transplantation viable in Turkey and the psychic transformations experienced by patients who suffer renal failure and undergo dialysis and organ transplantation. Soon after beginning dialysis, patients are told that transplantable kidneys are in short supply; they should look for an organ donor. Poorer patients add their names to the state-run organ share lists. Wealthier patients pay for organs and surgeries, often in foreign countries such as India, Russia, or Iraq. Sanal links Turkey’s expanding trade in illegal organs to patients’ desires to be free from dialysis machines, physicians’ qualms about declaring brain-death, and media-hyped rumors of a criminal organ mafia, as well as to the country’s political instability, the privatization of its hospitals, and its position as a hub in the global market for organs.

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About the Author:

Aslihan Sanal is a cultural anthropologist who focuses on science and medical technology. She received her PhD from MIT in 2005, and is currently working as an independent scholar. This is her first book.


New Organs Within Us is a tour de force. A brave, nuanced, and caring journey into the lives of transplant patients and the new worlds of meaning they tentatively inhabit. Soulfully written, the book changes the way we think about inner life and well-being, technology and human agency, and the impact of the global biomedical enterprise on local health systems. Social scientists and medical practitioners will have to reckon with this exceptional analysis for years to come.”—João Biehl, author of Vita: Life in a Zone of Social Abandonment and Will to Live: AIDS Therapies and the Politics of Survival

“I learned a great deal from this brilliant book. There is nothing else like it in the ethnographic literature on comparative high-tech medicine. Aslihan Sanal reaches far beyond the story of transplant patients and the organ trade in Turkey, taking in global flows of knowledge and ethics around brain-death, organ donation, and standards of care, as well as the worldwide organ trade, in which organs are exchanged legally and on the black market.”—Mary-Jo DelVecchio Good, Professor of Social Medicine, Department of Global Health and Social Medicine, Harvard Medical School

“New Organs within Us: Transplants and the Moral Economy is a richly ethnographic and soulfully written book that plunges its audience into the world of transplant patients and physicians.... The book is an important contribution to the burgeoning field of organ transplant.” (Monir Moniruzzaman American Ethnologist)

New Organs within Us is an important contribution to the ?elds of science and technology studies and the anthropology of health and illness.” (Aysecan Terzioglu American Anthropologist)

“This is a brilliant book about organ transplantation in Turkey, not only as a journey into the experiences of patients, donors, and relatives of the decease, but also as a political-economy engagement that sheds light on how coping mechanisms are segregated between the poor and the rich. I learned a great deal from this book, and would like to recommend it to students of social sciences, social medicine, and political economy in Turkey.”  (Fikret Adaman Turkish Studies)

"Sensitively written and deeply insightful, Aslihan Sanal’s ethnography of kidney transplantation in Turkey in the 1990s and 2000s is an intimate stitching of life histories, national and institutional narratives, and shifting meanings of life, death, and the body." (Elizabeth DeLuca Somatosphere)

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