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School of Geography

School Research Seminar - Plagues, securities and the importance of spatial multiplicity

25 March 2014

Time: 12:15 - 1:15pm
Venue: FB 2.07 City Centre seminar room

Professor Stephen Hinchliffe, Geography, College of Life and Environmental Sciences, University of Exeter

Chair: Tim Brown/Beth Greenhough

This paper reports on various components of an ESRC project entitled biosecurity borderlands. It outlines the recent history of and key elements for biosecurity, drawing out the spatial tensions between and within elements.  The paper uses field work in farming, food and surveillance sectors to note the following tendencies in biosecurity practice:

  1. The focus on pathogen breach points rather than on the systemic tipping points that allow a disease to take hold and or develop new characteristics
  2.  The tendency to ignore the combination of just-in-time, commercial and regulatory pressures which can provide the prime conditions for the amplification and spread of disease
  3. To ignore the discretion and learning required to keep pace with a spatially complex and temporally variable disease situations

The paper uses the field work to make the following arguments:

  1. There is a need for biosecurity to work with rather than against the grain of pathological life, with regulation no longer premised upon the absence of pathogens but attendant to the interplay of bodies, microbes, infrastructures and practices.
  2. This requires an informed and strategic assembly of trans-disciplinary approaches to health involving a variety of practitioners across the food, farming and wildlife sectors
  3. There is a need, even in light of recent budget cuts, to maintain government science and regulation as well as maintaining skilled practitioners within the livestock and research communities.

An appreciation of the multiple logics and agencies that are involved in making life safe does not offer easy regulatory solutions to an emerging zoonotic challenge, but it does highlight the need to arrest a tendency to over-simplify the food chain and down-grade agricultural, research and surveillance roles within the food, farming and health sectors.  The paper is underwritten by an will to explore and affirm a life politics that may have less in common with biopolitics (Foucault, Esposito) and more to draw from the ontological and cosmopolitics of science studies and ANT.

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