Risk and Technological Culture: Towards a Sociology of Virulence

By Joost Van Loon | Go to book overview

7

Emergent pathogen virulence

Understanding epidemics in apocalypse culture

The history of our time will be marked by recurrent eruptions of newly discovered diseases…; epidemics of diseases migrating to new areas…; diseases which become important through human technologies…; and diseases which spring from insects and animals to humans, through manmade disruptions in local habitats. To some extent, each of these processes has been occurring throughout history. What is new, however, is the increased potential that at least some of these diseases will generate large-scale, even world-wide epidemics.

(Garrett, 1994: xv)

This chapter focuses on the problematic of emergent pathogen virulence of viruses, bacteria and other pathogens. Using Ebola as an example, the aim is to show how emergent virulence is endemic to the way in which ‘modernity’ has evolved. Furthermore, the objective of this exploration is to trace the way in which discussions over ‘emergent viruses’ intersect with the spreading of a more general apocalyptic ethos in popular culture and what kind of economic, social, political and cultural factors operate at the roots of such an intersection.

It is of little relevance whether the agents of risk are organic or inorganic; their effects both relate to processes of ‘contamination’ and ‘spreading’. They can both be understood as ‘actors’. However, what may set them apart and force us to rethink the conceptual framework outlined in part one is the question of ‘motivation’. In the discourses that have brought viruses to our attention, pathogen motivation is of crucial importance. Viruses make us ill because they are replicating themselves; like waste, they are virulent abjects of modernity. However, unlike waste, they ‘take over’ bits and pieces of our bodies because they are motivated by self-replication. That is, they borrow bits of genetic material (DNA or RNA) and ribosomes from their hosts (Cann, 1997; Levine, 1992). In nuclear physics, discourses of radiation do not address the issue of motivation. A radioactive particle is not motivated to engage in self-replication. Although we may conceive of radiation as itself a form of motivation, for example as matter-becoming-energy; this motivation is not part of a strategy to replicate itself; its logic is exterior to its own movement

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Risk and Technological Culture: Towards a Sociology of Virulence
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Preface viii
  • Acknowledgements x
  • 1 - Introduction 1
  • Part I - Theoretical Framework 17
  • 2 - Cultivating Risks 19
  • 3 - Enrolling Risks in Technocultural Practices 45
  • 4 - Assemblages and Deviations 63
  • 5 - A Theoretical Framework 88
  • Part II - The Four Riders of the Apocalypse 103
  • 6 - Cultivating Waste 105
  • 7 - Emergent Pathogen Virulence 123
  • 8 - Cyberrisks 147
  • 9 - Race, Riots and Risk 169
  • 10 - Conclusion 185
  • References 212
  • Index 227
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