Blood donation, loss of self?

Emergency relief, surgical interventions, blood diseases, cancers… Each day in France, 10 000 blood donations are necessary and this figure is constantly increasing. The French Blood Center (Etablissement Français du Sang, or EFS, ) has issued a warning call. Indeed, there is no treatment or synthesized drug able to replace human blood. Donating blood is thus an irreplaceable voluntary act, in both meaning of the word.

Despite widespread communication campaigns on social media and the organization of events, only 4% of the French medically fit population donates blood. It’s not much, we all agree. But these donors are valuable. Understanding how it goes for them might help retaining them, and maybe sharing their experience with potential donors could be inspiring. In her AFM 2019 Congress awarded paper, Emmanuelle Boch delivers keys to understand blood donation experience by adopting a specific perspective: voluntary dispossession.

A call for dispossession

Voluntary dispossession and blood donation

« Voluntary dispossession is a process consisting of three stages (distancing behavior, dispossession rituals, emotional split), ending in the definitive separation, physically and psychologicaly, between an individual and his/her possession. » Separating from something one cherishes is difficult. It implies a dispossession ritual. In the case blood, donation happens in a medical context, with the presence of an intermediate (collecting the blood). It makes this ritual impossible and that is the difference between blood and common items. So then, what happens when someone donates blood?

Going beyond voluntary dispossession

Through a qualitative study combining 16 interviews, field ethnographic immersion and pictures analysis by the author as well as by participants, Emmanuelle Boch shows that blood donation can be understood through the different transformations undergone by blood along its transition from the donor’s body to one or more recipients.

  • From invisible to visible : at the time of the donation (collection), blood becomes visible. It allows the donor to realize its donation is effective.
  • From indivisible to divisible : giving blood implies separating from part of one’s self.
  • From inside to outside of the body : a double movement takes place.

« On one part, blood is extracted from the body thanks to medical protocol, on the other part, blood collection consists in an invasive act penetrating the body. It is a burdensome protocol and the donor is not in a position where he/she can control his/her donation. »

  • From impure blood to neutral blood : blood is stored in bags and cleaned… of everything that pertained to the donor’s identity (particularly symbolically).
  • From identified blood to independent blood : blood goes from an individual body to a social body. Donors can imagine what their blood will/might become.

Having a better understanding of what goes on when donating blood, are you more likely to do it? And if you already do, there are chances you see your donation in a different way.

Boch Emmanuelle (2019), Le modèle de la dépossession volontaire est-il adapté à tous les types de don ? Le cas du don de sang, 35ème Congrès de l’Association Française du Marketing, Le Havre, 15-17 may (Best paper award)

Blog post adapted by from Agnes Helme-Guizon’s (in French)

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