Discipline Exchange on Swaps
This chapter examines the kidney swap or kidney paired donation, which is both a method shaped by the medical professions and computer technologies, and a practice shared by patients. It occurs when a pair of relatives (one potential recipient and one want-to-be-donor) who are not compatible by blood, are ‘matched’ with another pair who are also not compatible together. It begins by presenting some ethnographic and secondary data about the practices, functions, and epistemologies of the organ swap. It argues that these make visible both anthropological concepts and legal doctrine. The chapter examines in detail how the swap both confuses established categories on the one hand, and makes their terms explicit on the other. It mobilizes both the contract law theory of consideration and ethnographic observations in order to refine the legal and anthropological study of swaps, the current fascination they bring about in the medical milieu, and the proliferation of their underlying logic. It aims to show how old legal objects drawn from doctrine can be used doubly: they can remain intriguing artefacts for anthropological analysis, and they can bring fresh theoretical perspective to the anthropological examination of an artefact. The chapter finally asks what this means for future legal—anthropological inquiries in swap and barter.
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