Managing Uncertainty in Species Barrier Zones
In the last twenty years, new diseases have emerged when pathogens have crossed species barriers: mad cow disease, avian and swine influenza, Ebola, Nipah, and West Nile viruses. These spillover events are linked to transformations in the environment: industrial breeding, deforestation, urbanization, and climate change. The correlation between these environmental transformations and zoonoses highlights the emergence of species barrier zones, reflecting new ontological uncertainty that demands mathematical modeling and specific case studies. The chapter looks ethnographically at the management of zones of uncertainty at the human/animal interface. I show how virus hunters develop devices to capture threats that affect humans and animals in common. These devices can be called sentinels, as they perceive as actualities catastrophes that remain potential. Considering metaphor of virus hunter seriously, I compare the uncertainty of the hunter to the uncertainty of the virologist in their relation to animals and in their future action. Relying on participant observation of microbiologists in Asia and Europe, I look at the public health management of zoonoses from the perspective of those who produce data on the invisible paths of microbes. If policies of preparedness for emerging diseases face uncertainty, they encounter an ontological uncertainty in the relation between humans, animals, and their common environment.
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