A genealogy of the gift : blood donation in London, 1921-1946

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Whitfield, Nicholas Roy William Nixon 

This thesis discusses the historical association of blood donation with narratives of 'the gift'. It is a history of blood-giving in London between the emergence of the city's first voluntary blood donor panel in 1921 and the establishment of the National Blood Transfusion Service in 1946, and follows the transformation of transfusion therapy from a one-to-one surgical procedure to a standardised complement to a nationalised system of health. Special attention is given to the articulation and cultivation of altruistic ideals. The argument is that the theme of the gift arose simultaneously with a modernised blood transfusion service and its associated technological innovations, in particular the blood bank, which distanced donors and recipients. From this basis, A Genealogy of the Gift uses history to challenge an interpretation of the gift as ' anachronistic', symptomatic of early face-to-face blood transfusion but thoroughly incompatible with technological advances in the manufacturing, storage and distribution of blood products. On the contrary, the gift emerged in processes of expansion that first flourished in World War II and, to a greater extent, remain with us. The opening chapter examines the case of interwar London, where surgical one-to-one transfusions of whole blood were the norm but the morality of giver took precedence over the theme of the gift. Three subsequent chapters consider the shift 'from giver to gift', through the planning of an emergency service in autumn 1939 (Chapter 2) to the development of specialist venues of blood collection (Chapter 3) and the promotion of fictive recipients in connection with 'the gift in the battle line' (Chapter 4). A final chapter questions the legacy of these changes in the planning of a postwar service from 1943 . By confronting the alleged hostility of modern blood supplies to altruism with a story of coincidence and mutual complicity, this thesis makes a claim for the importanc~ of history in understanding the boundaries and potential of gift rhetoric.


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Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Awarding Institution
University of Cambridge