Fierce Blood and Gentle Genes: Sickled Cells and the Making of Intergenerational Bodies in Tanzania
This project questions what happens when African biomedicine shifts its focus from the triage-like immediacy of communicable diseases toward the intergenerational scope of a genetically inherited, chronic illness. Since the early 2010s, a series of Pan-African research initiatives have ushered in a so-called “genetic revolution” in Africa, and made Tanzania a hub for sickle cell disease research and care on the continent. Over 24 months from March 2018 to March 2020, I conducted participant observation at regional hospitals in Tanzania, and life history interviews with medical practitioners and diagnosed families. I also met with artists, poets, inheritance lawyers, and religious leaders to think together about what is made, and what is left out, by a geneticization of lineage. From the young people whose reproductive and intimate futures are being reimagined as a risk to the future of the Tanzanian nation, to the Zanzibari doctor whose granddaughter’s pain crises bring back memories of her Omani-descended grandfather before her, this project foregrounds the temporalized bodies of sickle cell disease patients in Tanzania at the nexus of biomedical reproduction, racialized bodily difference, and the struggle for post-colonial sovereignty. I argue that a sickle cell diagnosis in Tanzania carries with it notions of “modern” liberal temporalities and the corresponding alignments of self, family, and nation. But even further, I follow how genetic medicine offers possibilities for embodied critiques of capitalist expansion and state power. This work was generously supported by an array of internal and external funding, including a Fulbright-Hays Doctoral Dissertation Research Abroad grant, and a National Science Foundation Doctoral Dissertation Improvement Grant.
Earthly Livelihoods, Barren Futures: Juxtaposing technologies of bio-Fertility beyond the human
(Beginning winter 2020)
This project interrogates the interrogates the politics of making life—both human and nonhuman—through two parallel technological interventions that promise fertility as a public good. In 2020, the national hospital in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania is opening the very first public facility in the country for infertility treatment and in-vitro fertilization. Meanwhile, in rural Igunga, a program under the European Union has been training local farmers to increase soil productivity through the use of “bio-fertility technology.” I juxtapose these disparate realms of understanding growth, propagation, healing, and futurity in order to conceptualize more-than-human modes of thriving in Africa in an era of global, biotechnological intervention.