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In Session: Governing Bloods: Science, Religion, and Race in Making Cold War South Korea
2: From Black Markets to Blood Banks: The Blood Donation Movement in Cold War South Korea
Monday, March 22, 2021
10:00am – 11:30am EDT
Inga K. Diederich
University of California, San Diego, Republic of Korea
This paper examines the Cold War transformation of blood collection practices in South Korea to understand their operation at the intersection of local medical need, globalized scientific technologies, and postcolonial bio-governance. Today, voluntary blood donations account for almost all of South Korea’s medical blood reserve, but this donor culture is a relatively recent phenomenon. For decades after the Korean War, medical blood collection efforts struggled with widespread stigma against the purported dangers of donation and reservations about sharing such a personal substance with strangers. Blood collection programs consequently relied on market incentives (impoverished black-market sellers) and institutional coercion (soldiers and prisoners) to make up for the lack of public investment in the concept of a communal blood pool. It was not until the AIDS crisis that a program of legislative reforms, R&D, and PR campaigns overturned a family-bound blood concept for a communal national blood ethos. This paper interrogates the political agents, scientific developments, and social negotiations that produced this coalescence of South Korean public health culture and national identity. In doing so, it integrates and expands upon scholarship in Korean Studies and STMS that have respectively illuminated the discursive colonial origins of modern Korean nationalism and the role of public health in nation-building. The story of South Korea’s shift from an underregulated black-market within a familial blood-paradigm to today’s state-regulated donor system and its national blood-culture reveals how the meanings and management of blood—as medical material, biocapital, and national resource—are subject to local contingency and global conditions.