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History and Philosophy of the Life Sciences - Vol. 35, no. 3 (2013)
Article

Bronwyn Parry, The Afterlife of the Slide: Exploring Emotional Attachment to Artefactualised Bodily Traces


Abstract

- In this paper I explore the role of the slide, not as familiar scientific object, but rather as a fixed remnant that testifies to the lived experience of an individual. Returning to the scene of the public scandal that surrounded the unauthorised retention of children’s organs and tissues at two British hospitals in the late 1990s, I investigate the emotional significance that here came to be attached to archived slides. In so doing I draw attention to the ways in which the facticity of the slide – its ability to testify to the fact, or the existence, not only of the person from whom it is drawn, but also, when created for histopathological reasons, the disease that ultimately killed them – acts to efface their presumed ephemerality. In the final section of the paper I turn to consider how the events that I describe have come to shape the ways in which this kind of highly artefactualised bodily material is now accommodated in the institutional setting of the tissue bank and with what implications for research and the wider dissemination of scientific knowledge. Specifically, I explore how and why slides have come to acquire a “personality” and, with it, something akin to legally constituted “personality rights” including rights relating to publicity and privacy.


Keywords

Slides, materiality, body parts, witnessing, history of science, privacy, affect


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