Department of Anthropology
The Global Traffic in Human Organs
- Author(s): Scheper-Hughes, Nancy
- et al.
Inspired by Sweetness and Power, in which Sidney Mintz traces the colonial and mercantilist routes of enslaving tastes and artificial needs, this paper maps a late-20th-century global trade in bodies, body parts, desires, and invented scarcities. Organ transplant takes place today in a transnational space with surgeons, patients, organ donors, recipients, brokers, and intermediariessome with criminal connectionsfollowing new paths of capital and technology in the global economy. The stakes are high, for the technologies and practices of transplant surgery have demonstrated their power to reconceptualize the human body and the relations of body parts to the whole and to the person and of people and bodies to each other. The phenomenal spread of these technologies and the artificial needs, scarcities, and new commodities (i.e., fresh organs) that they inspire especially within the context of a triumphant neoliberalism raise many issues central to anthropology's concern with global dominations and local resistances, including the reordering of relations between individual bodies and the state, between gifts and commodities, between fact and rumor, and between medicine and magic in post-modernity.