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Senior Research Seminar: Dr Frédéric Keck (Director of Research, Musée du Quai Branly, Paris)

When May 12, 2017
from 04:15 PM to 06:00 PM
Where Edmund Leach seminar room, Division of Social Anthropology
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Stamping out, Vaccinating, and Monitoring Contagious Animals : a Genealogy of Animal Diseases and Social Anthropology

Dr Frédéric Keck, Director of Research, Musée du Quai Branly, Paris

Stamping out, vaccinating and monitoring animals are the three main techniques used by contemporary veterinary public health to manage animal diseases which can transmit to humans. They assume different ontologies of microbes as invisible beings emerging in relations between humans and animals and signaling their transformations. Therefore, animal diseases are not only a question for an applied anthropology, but they involve the theoretical core of the discipline, that is, the ontology of collective beings emerging out of interactions. What we would call a biosecurity intervention today was justified in the last two centuries as a way to produce “society”, but this notion has become problematic to understand the emergence and proliferation of new pathogens in animal reservoirs. Different techniques of treatment for animal diseases involve different views of animals, often conflicting between public health administrations and animal breeders. Rationalities of risks involve different ontologies of the social when they concern relations between humans and animals.
To defend this argument, I will examine the transformations of social anthropology in relation to changing animal diseases in Britain and France in the last two centuries. I will successfully describe what Herbert Spencer wrote about foot-and-mouths disease, what William Robertson Smith thought in the context of bovine tuberculosis, how Emile Durkheim took vaccination for smallpox as a metaphor for the pathologies of the social and what Claude Lévi-Strauss wrote about mad cow disease. Considering these four major thinkers as building different views of « the social » in response to the threat of a contagious animal disease, I will finally ask how they are relevant to think about the management of bird flu pandemic in China - thus shifting from European cows to Asian birds. The aim of my talk is to ask how the idea that the globe should be prepared to a pandemic coming from Asian birds profoundly differs from European models of prevention based on the knowledge of bovine diseases, and yet was confusedly anticipated in Europeans views on the transformations of « the social ».
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