Frédéric Keck, Avian Reservoirs: Virus Hunters and Birdwatchers in Chinese Sentinel Posts – Duke UP, January 2020
I’d missed this when it came out early this year, so thanks to Sebastien Nobert for the link. Clearly written some time ago, but especially timely at the moment.
After experiencing the SARS outbreak in 2003, Hong Kong, Singapore, and Taiwan all invested in various techniques to mitigate future pandemics involving myriad cross-species interactions between humans and birds. In some locations microbiologists allied with veterinarians and birdwatchers to follow the mutations of flu viruses in birds and humans and create preparedness strategies, while in others, public health officials worked toward preventing pandemics by killing thousands of birds. In Avian Reservoirs Frédéric Keck offers a comparative analysis of these responses, tracing how the anticipation of bird flu pandemics has changed relations between birds and humans in China. Drawing on anthropological theory and ethnographic fieldwork, Keck demonstrates that varied strategies dealing with the threat of pandemics—stockpiling vaccines and samples in Taiwan, simulating pandemics in Singapore, and monitoring viruses and disease vectors in Hong Kong—reflect local geopolitical relations to mainland China. In outlining how interactions among pathogens, birds, and humans shape the way people imagine future pandemics, Keck illuminates how interspecies relations are crucial for protecting against such threats.
“In this ethnography of the prevention of bird flu pandemics in Asia, Frédéric Keck dazzlingly interweaves perspectives from the anthropology of sciences and institutions, an account of the modernization of methods of biopower, and a fine-grained analysis of relations between endangered humans and nonhumans in order to show how common values evolve out of their mutual vulnerabilities. A crucial contribution to the reformulation of political rules for the coexistence between different forms of life.” — Philippe Descola, Collège de France
“This is a delicious book, fun to read and full of bright sparks of insight. Frédéric Keck compares microbiologists to hunters; he mixes and matches his ontologies in relation to particular scientific practices. The exuberance of comparison makes the experiment work. I find it stimulating and good to think with.” — Anna Tsing, coeditor of Feral Atlas: The More-Than-Human Anthropocene