Here I present shortly the main research projects I developed and contributed to: first my doctoral thesis, then the collective research project CORTEM, and finally the autonomous research project Sharing Organs Through Algorithms.
Doctoral Thesis: What The Flesh Carries
Summary of the thesis
How has the face become an organ, object of donation and transplantation?
Starting from this questioning, this thesis invests the environment of those who have carried facial transplant projects, and those who have debated about them, during the years 2000 and 2010 in France and the United Kingdom. It illuminates the social conditions according to which facial transplantation has been made acceptable, for transplanted patients and surgical teams, organ donation coordinators and relatives of deceased donors who allow the retrieval. The enquiry involved an in-depth investment of the whole chain of transplantation, based on the collection of archives (scientific, institutional, media), on conducting interviews (with surgeons, patients, organ donation and medical regulation’s actors, members of associations of disfigured people), as well as doing an ethnography of hospital services that carry out these operations (from the operating rooms to the service meetings). By closely following these actors, the survey illuminates the tensions that experimentation reveals in its passage.
This research addresses face transplant as an object that articulates questions at the crossroads of institutions, social movements and experiences of donation. Face transplant upsets, first of all, the claims of the surgeons to self-regulate. The confrontation of surgical teams with health and ethical institutions, which evaluate the appropriateness of this experiment, reveals distinct relationships to medical objectivity and to the supervision of hospital practices. The emergence of face transplant, then, poses a challenge to the collectives of disfigured people who oscillate between support for medical progress and denunciation of surgery as oppression. The reactions of the French and English associations are indicative of distinct conceptions of disfigurement, and help to shape the trajectory of face transplant. Lastly, face transplant questions the social conditions of the dead bodies’ availability and the tensions at work in the reception of an anonymous donation of organs. Transplanted patients are subject to a double constraint that can be experienced as contradictory: on the one hand, that of thanking the donor, on the other, that of forgetting the donor in order to accept the transplant. The thesis thus reveals the heterogeneous – and at the same time coherent – assembly of these levels of analysis, which is at stake every time a body part is transferred from one person to another. It illuminates, in other words, what the flesh carries.
A short presentation in French, filmed by the EHESS for the reception of the Chancellery PhD Prize
Collective Postdoctoral Research: CORTEM
The attention paid to socially problematic bodies and the observation of their contrasting politicization according to countries and groups of actors then led me to turn to a political sociology of the treatment of the bodies of the dead in controversial situations. This work, carried out as part of my post-doctoral work within the National Research Agency (ANR) program « Corpses As Witness », questioned the ways in which human remains are appraised, qualified, and treated when they do not respond to situations routinely dealt with by the State. Whether they are migrants, death row prisoners or victims of mass crime, the presence of their corpses raises a series of questions: what are the acceptable modalities of their care and by whom? What do their bodies represent and what do they do to the situation?
Through a bibliographical investigation and in dialogue with researchers in the field (Nicolas Fischer, Milena Jaksick, Carolina Kobelinsky and Florence Galmiche), I have studied the processes of politicization of these deaths and the modes of state and para-state regulation of the tensions in which their bodies are taken. I have also studied the material operations and language skills that define or transform corpses into carriers of identity, political claims or waste. I have further studied the ways in which legal and professional devices are mobilized to institutionalize differences in the treatment to be accorded to the bodies of these people, both before and after their death.
In addition to articulating the theoretical perspectives and questions raised by this collective program to those that animate my own research trajectory, this work offers a particularly heuristic shift in terms of the objects and geographic spaces studied. I move from organs to the bodies of the deceased and human remains, from the European spaces of medicine to American prisons, from the shores of the Mediterranean to international courts of justice.
CNRS Postdoctoral Research: Sharing Organs Through Algorithms
This autonomous research project funded by the CNRS (2020-2022) addresses the AI-based technological responses to organ allocation in France and the UK. I look at how AI is called for to decide which patient on the waiting list gets to receive an organ, in a context of global shortage where not all patients survive the wait. In addition to paying attention to the type of arguments and knowledge that are being mobilized by various actors during the construction of complex computer algorithms, this project focuses on the way in which AI technologies intertwine scientific, professional and political issues. The empirical strategy consists in following the elaboration and implementation of English and French algorithms and software for the distribution of organs. What principles of justice and efficiency should and can artificial intelligence take into account? How does this technology relate to the requirements of health democracy? To answer the questions raised by the development of AI-based medical decisions, the investigation will combine the study of controversies and science studies ethnographic methods. This project contributes to the CNRS’s major societal issue relating to artificial intelligence, and is supported by digital humanities analytical tools.