Anthropology of Zoonoses

Activity: Participating in or organising an event typesParticipation in or organising a conference


Zoonoses raise a growing challenge to the life sciences as they force to understand the mechanisms of transmission of pathogens that cross species barriers. The aim of this conference is to explore how anthropology may relate to this challenge. This will be addressed in two ways. Firstly, how might ethnography contribute to this field of research insofar as it involves long-time immersion in human-animal relationships? And secondly, how might anthropologists reflect on the public health response to infectious diseases transmitted by animals? The conference will gather anthropologists working on the subject of zoonoses, so that they may raise theoretical and methodological questions outside the context of public health emergencies.

Themes to be discussed include:

What are the infrastructural changes that contribute to the emergence of zoonoses? And what infrastructural changes are put in place for the surveillance and control of zoonoses? Particular focus will be given to infrastructures as spaces of vulnerability harbouring the potentially catastrophic emergence of zoonotic pathogens (rural/urban interface, industrial husbandry). We will also look at infrastructural changes at the level of organizations and networks of actors that monitor these vulnerabilities, such as groups often gathered under the encompassing and unstable notion of One Health. Additionally we will ask : how has the focus on zoonoses impacted programmes for global health and biosecurity?
What are the ontologies of pathogens crossing species barriers? By ontologies, we do not mean only local knowledges that could be opposed to global norms of biosecurity. We propose to look at the competing and conflicting representations of human-animal relationships engaged in the management of zoonoses. In particular, distinctions can be drawn between zoonoses that need a constant animal reservoir, such as bubonic plague, and zoonoses that need only one spillover event, such as Ebola. Similarly, distinctions can be drawn between epizootics, which follow an infective curve among animals before spreading to humans, and enzootics that constantly mutate in the animal reservoir. Which modes of causality or agency are engaged in these different modes of transmission?
What are the epistemologies of zoonoses? We do not intend to consider zoonosis as a stable notion but propose to follow its instabilities and uncertainties through the life sciences. What are the different sources of knowledge that allow us to trace human diseases back to an animal origin? Following methods of Science and Technology Studies, we propose to look at the way laboratory research, field studies, ethnography, statistics, and archives contribute to a general notion of zoonosis. What kinds of narrative result from the dialogue between these different forms of knowledge production, and how do they relate to major shifts in human history, such as the introduction of domestication or the industrial revolution?
What are the moral and political categories generated by practices of species accusation? How is the management of zoonotic risk intertwined with questions of responsibility over the life and reproduction conditions of animals? Which categories of purity and impurity are involved in the search for “risky practices”, such as bushmeat hunting or the practice of “wet markets”? How do animal protection movements engage in these moral politics, and how do they recast values of purity and impurity?
Examining the interaction between shifting transformations of human-animal relations and conceptualisations of and responses to zoonoses, the conference will explore spaces of vulnerability and vigilance (entanglement, sentinels, hotspots) so as to raise questions regarding their theoretical and methodological challenges for anthropology.
Period26 Feb 201527 Feb 2015
Event typeConference
LocationParis, FranceShow on map