Vital Circulations: A Framework for Understanding Social Dynamics in and beyond a Pandemic

The COVID-­19 pandemic has brought into relief the porousness of our bodies, and the importance of pathogenic substances passed between them every day. Meanwhile the global quest for vaccines and treatments relies on further circulations of vital matter, from DNA samples to convalescent plasma.  

In short, both the disease’s spread and its cure, depend on how we manage and monitor global circulations of vital (and potentially viral) matter. And yet, these vital substances do not circulate in a vacuum: as the pandemic lays bare, the socially marginalised are more susceptible to viral infections and ensuing deaths, a pattern exacerbated in the Global South with limited infrastructural capacity for testing and utilising vital matter. 

Despite the rising stakes of managing vital matter, there has not been any systematic cross-­disciplinary effort to understand how vital circulations intersect with social boundaries and hierarchies. This project brings together eleven leading White Rose researchers and five external partners whose work tackles social marginalisation in different biomedical fronts across the globe (India, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Israel, Japan, South Korea, Sweden, the US and the UK).  

The project aims to: 

1. Develop ‘vital circulations’ as a new conceptual framework to advance a comparative global understanding of the social dynamics surrounding vital matter. It will consolidate social scientific research along the three axes of:

  • infectious disease control
  • human tissue donation   
  • biobanking and genomics 

2. Further contextualise the social scientific findings in these three areas within: 

  • the medical history of infectious disease and rejuvenation technologies
  • contemporary developments in rehabilitation medicine 

3. Collaborate with external partners, to communicate the framework to the public and further identify new areas of research and policy changes for a more equitable post­‐pandemic health infrastructure, from the perspectives of  regulatory, clinical and patient empowerment 

Ultimately, the aim is to establish White Rose as a leading hub for interdisciplinary research on social disparities in the age of intensive viral and vital circulations. 

Lead academic at lead institute:  
Dr Jieun Kim – School of Languages, Cultures and Societies, University of Leeds 

Lead academics at other institutions:  
Dr Ros Williams – Sociology, University of Sheffield 
Professor Nik Brown – Sociology, University of York 

Academics at other institutions: 
University of Leeds: 
Professor Marie-­Andrée Jacob – Law 
Professor Rory O’Connor – Medicine  
Dr James Stark – History 
Dr Greg Hollin – Sociology  

University of Sheffield: 
Professor Paul Martin – Sociology 
Dr Lauren E White – Sociology 

University of York: 
Dr Sangeeta Chattoo – Sociology 
Dr Chrissy Buse – Sociology 

Other partners:  
Jessica Porter – Human Tissue Authority, UK
Priyankar Chand – Sickle Cell Nepal 
Race Against Blood Cancer, non‐profit organisation, UK  
Sue Mackay – Thackray Medical Museum, Leeds 

Find out more about the White Rose University Consortium




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