Provincializing Preparedness, Or, The Bird Flu Bomb
Session of the seminar of the Chair of Anthropology and Global Health with Carlo Caduff, King’s College, Londres, United Kingdom.
In this talk, I take encounters with infectious disease experts as a starting point for an ethnographic exploration of pandemic prophecy in the United States. Turned toward the future, prophets claim to see what others cannot see. It is this ability that prompts people to place their lives into the hands of such experts, whose special skills have endowed them with power, prestige, and authority. Not all pandemic discourse is prophetic, to be sure, but a considerable portion is. Drawing attention to eruptions of prophetic speech, my aim is not to expose prophetic claims in the name of true science, but to examine how speculations about the future suffuse the present with the suspicion that something is happening. What is it that allows prophetic claims, cast in scientific terms, to gain traction in public discourse? Why are some prophets more successful than others in conveying their scientifically inspired visions of a coming plague? What, in other words, makes one vision more rational and coherent, more plausible and compelling, more acceptable and respectable than others? The hope is that an ethnographic exploration of these questions will allow us to provincialize preparedness.