Biobanking and Biopolitics in Qatar and Israel


Wednesday, March 29, 2017, 4:30pm to 6:00pm


CMES, Rm 102, 38 Kirkland St, Cambridge, MA 02138

The Center for Middle Eastern Studies presents

Ian V. McGonigle
Research Associate, Program on Science, Technology and Society, Harvard University; PhD candidate, Center for Middle Eastern Studies, Harvard University

Abstract: Biobanks are a growing phenomenon in global biomedicine, but national biobanks collect data and biological material from populations in specific regions. The knowledge that national biobanks yield can impact understandings of identity, origins, and belonging. Scholars in the social study of science have developed the concept of ‘co-production’ to reveal the relationships between scientific knowledge, technology, and the broader socio-political context. Drawing on ethnographic work examining the Israeli- and Qatari national biobanks, I find that these two biobanks imagine participation in ‘global science’ while at the same time they reinforce local ethnic and national identities. The Israeli biobank reflects pre-existing ethnic identities in Israeli society, while the Qatari biobank predominantly emphasizes the emergent national character of the Qatari population. These findings affirm the analytic utility of the idiom of co-production in comparative studies of biobanks, and demonstrate that biobanks are a good site for tracking national identities in the Middle East region.   
Ian Vincent McGonigle is a Research Associate at Harvard University’s Program on Science, Technology and Society and an anthropologist of science, broadly interested in the ways culture and political history affect how scientific knowledge is produced, understood, and utilized. His current research project is a comparative study of biobanking and ethnic genetics in Israel and Qatar, with a focus on the consequences of precision medicine initiatives on ethnic and national identity. For this work, Ian spent a year studying the National Laboratory for the Genetics of Israeli Populations, and he is currently writing about biomedical developments in Qatar. Ian intends to pursue a faculty position in medical anthropology and science and technology studies, and his ongoing work focuses on the anthropological dimensions of national biomedical development, and bioethics (in relation to precision medicine), in Israel and the Arab Gulf. 

Ian earned a B.A. in Biochemistry and Cell Biology from Trinity College Dublin (2007); he has a PhD in molecular neuroscience from the University of Cambridge (2010); and he received masters degrees in cultural- and social anthropology from the University of Chicago (2013) and Harvard University (2015). He is currently also a PhD candidate in Middle Eastern Studies and Anthropology at Harvard University. Ian has published over a dozen original research articles in top academic journals, such as: Ethnos: Journal of Anthropology; the Journal of Law and the Biosciences (including the most-read article, with over 30,000 reads); Anthropology Today (cover feature); Journal of Neuroscience; Biophysical Journal; ACS Chemical Neuroscience; and Biochemistry. He recently published three opinion editorials in Genetics Research discussing some of the ethical issues relating to biobanking and precision medicine projects. He has acted as a bioethics consultant for the Wellcome Trust sponsored Bioethics Literature project in 2011, for which he wrote three afterward responses in the Comma Press’ anthology of science fiction writing Bio-Punk: Stories from the Far Side of Research. He has co-organized two interdisciplinary symposia at Harvard University that discussed the ways in which advances in genomic technologies are transforming human identities, titled ‘Science, Ethnicity, Identity’ (2014), and ‘The Molecularization of Identity: Science and Subjectivity in the 21st Century’ (2016). He is currently acting as guest editor for the journal Science as Culture, which will publish a special issue from a selection of the papers from the latter conference. 

Contact: Liz Flanagan