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Who is my stranger? Origins of the gift in wartime London, 1939-45


Department of Social Studies of Medicine, McGill University, 3647 Rue Peel, Montreal QC, Canada H3A 1X1.


The subject of this paper is the association of gift rhetoric with blood donation in London during the early 1940s. Querying the view that the original concept of ‘the gift relationship’ was the product of Richard Titmuss's influential study of blood transfusion of 1970, I locate the origins of the gift in propaganda materials of the Second World War, and describe their relation to images of transfusion recipients and the ideal of one-to-one giving. In order to offer an alternative to accounts that describe the gift as anachronistic and incompatible with modern methods of procurement and transfusion, here I demonstrate the profound connections between gift rhetoric and the anonymity wrought by techniques of cold storage and blood banking.