Donating the body - blood, altruism, and common good

Fabio Dei

Donating the body - blood, altruism, and common good

may sat 26, 2012 - 4.00 p.m.
sala Maggiore Palazzo Comunale - piazza del Duomo, 1
 admission euro 3.00

The gift of parts of one’s body, such as blood, organs, stem cells, or mother’s milk, is spreading increasingly thanks to the progress of biomedicine. Yet this is a very specific form of gift. In the anthropological tradition of Marcel Mauss, the gift is a form of exchange which establishes bonds between people. Here instead, except in particular cases, the donation is made anonymously: there should be no connection between donor and recipient, and no direct reciprocity is admitted. Donations are made to ‘strangers.’ So what form of ‘altruism’ is there behind the decision to donate parts of one’s body? Neither utilitarian explanations of rational action nor anti-utilitarian theories can explain that. Rather, what is at play is a moral motive—an especially strong one, since the body is involved—that civil society associations succeed in conveying to goals and practices of common good.

Fabio Dei is Professor of Cultural Anthropology at the University of Pisa. His main focus is on the epistemology of social sciences, and his reseaerch deals with themes of folk and mass culture in contemporary Italy. In the realm of studies on gift, he has coordinated a study funded by AVIS Tuscany on blood donations among migrants: its title is Il sangue degli altri. Culture della donazione fra gli immigrati stranieri in Italia (2007). Dei has also edited two books: Culture del dono (with M. Aria), published by Meltemi in 2008), and Il dono del sangue. Per un’antropologia dell’altruismo (with M. Aria, G. L. Mancini), published by Pacini in 2008. His books include: Ragione e forme di vita. Razionalità e relativismo in antropologia (with A. Simonicca), published by Franco Angeli in 1990; La discesa agli inferi: J. G. Frazer nella cultura del Novecento (Argo, 1998); Beethoven e le mondine. Ripensare la cultura popolare (2003), Antropologia della violenza (2005), both published by Meltemi. His new book, Introduzione all’antropologia culturale, is about to be published by il Mulino.