Talking about my thesis without talking about my thesis: infectious diseases and posthumanism

So, just last week, I had an exam that frees me (interesting choice of words, I know) to pursue the thesis of my choice in order to complete my master’s program. Now, I’m real grateful for the patience of so many people in my department, who has agreed to entertain my ever-changing thesis idea. I finally feel grounded in this one, and think good things (not simply academic) will come out of this commitment.

So, I’m going to attempt to talk about the general idea behind my thesis, without going into specifics. It has to do with vector-borne diseases (I have a specific one in mind) and how they manifest environmental and technological networks in the way they spread and are subsequently recognized my anthropic authorities as real diseases. I’m not going to go into epidemiology of the diseases exactly, but focus more on the actors present in “inventing” the disease.

To give you an example, think about malaria. While it has symptoms similar to other illnesses, the diagnosis is specifically based on the parasite (Plasmodium), and its vector (the female Anopheles mosquito). The symptoms of malaria include fever, vomiting, seizures, shakes, and headaches which are commonly associated with a number of other diseases, but the specific diagnosis of malaria calls for a specific treatment. When we try to look at treatment of malaria, we shouldn’t only look at the biochemical mechanism of the drug quinine, but also the fact that it was produced as a result of colonial interventions! Not only that, if we remove our reductionist lenses while trying to elucidate the network of connections that go into “inventing” malaria, we see other nonhuman species involved in a chain of command, acting through their own agency, and subverting human agency over their own bodies. This is biological posthumanism at work!

Yeah, it’s true, the critical theory of posthumanism is far more interesting to me than infectious disease itself, and I’m only using infectious disease narratives as a canvas on which I playfully tease out nuances of posthumanist theory, however, I’m also really excited by the prospect that posthumanist theory can offer pragmatic insights into these diseases.

I’d love to talk about this more with people who deal with infectious disease ecology in the traditional sense. I’m excited about this new application of STS theory!

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