Avian Reservoirs

Virus Hunters and Birdwatchers in Chinese Sentinel Posts

Book Pages: 256 Illustrations: 14 illustrations Published: January 2020

Author: Frédéric Keck

Anthropology > Medical Anthropology, Asian Studies, Science and Technology Studies

After experiencing the SARS outbreak in 2003, Hong Kong, Singapore, and Taiwan all invested in various techniques to mitigate future pandemics involving myriad cross-species interactions between humans and birds. In some locations microbiologists allied with veterinarians and birdwatchers to follow the mutations of flu viruses in birds and humans and create preparedness strategies, while in others, public health officials worked toward preventing pandemics by killing thousands of birds. In Avian Reservoirs Frédéric Keck offers a comparative analysis of these responses, tracing how the anticipation of bird flu pandemics has changed relations between birds and humans in China. Drawing on anthropological theory and ethnographic fieldwork, Keck demonstrates that varied strategies dealing with the threat of pandemics—stockpiling vaccines and samples in Taiwan, simulating pandemics in Singapore, and monitoring viruses and disease vectors in Hong Kong—reflect local geopolitical relations to mainland China. In outlining how interactions among pathogens, birds, and humans shape the way people imagine future pandemics, Keck illuminates how interspecies relations are crucial for protecting against such threats.


“In this ethnography of the prevention of bird flu pandemics in Asia, Frédéric Keck dazzlingly interweaves perspectives from the anthropology of sciences and institutions, an account of the modernization of methods of biopower, and a fine-grained analysis of relations between endangered humans and nonhumans in order to show how common values evolve out of their mutual vulnerabilities. A crucial contribution to the reformulation of political rules for the coexistence between different forms of life.” — Philippe Descola, Collège de France

“This is a delicious book, fun to read and full of bright sparks of insight. Frédéric Keck compares microbiologists to hunters; he mixes and matches his ontologies in relation to particular scientific practices. The exuberance of comparison makes the experiment work. I find it stimulating and good to think with.” — Anna Tsing, coeditor of Feral Atlas: The More-Than-Human Anthropocene

"This thought-provoking and brilliant book is no doubt timely. Avian Reservoirs inspires us to re-examine our relations with animals and techniques of dealing with zoonotic disease." — Justin Lau, LSE Review of Books

"The message of [Avian Reservoirs] is both timely and time-honored. The birds and their microbes, like the omens of classical literature, bear witness to a realm of higher truths. We would do well to heed our augurs." — Priscilla Wald, Public Books

"This book makes timely reading during a pandemic, especially one that appeared to give no warning. . . . Recommended. Graduate students through faculty; professionals." — T. P. Gariepy, Choice

“Ultimately Keck’s work offers a global view of China and the region, and if it re­mains less invested in the concerns of area studies specialists, it fits nicely with much of contemporary medical anthropology, especially recent work on biology, biosciences, and even environmental history…. Theoretically sophisticated, and holding ethnographical ambitions, Avian Reservoirs offers much to consider with the questions it poses, actively seeking to ‘decenter humans by showing their dependence on other species.’” — John P. DiMoia, Asian Ethnology


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Price: $26.95

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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Frédéric Keck is Senior Researcher at CNRS, director of the Laboratory for Social Anthropology in Paris, coeditor of The Anthropology of Epidemics, and author of several books in French.

Table of Contents Back to Top

Acknowledgments vii
Introduction 1
Part I. Animal Diseases
1. Culling, Vaccinating, and Monitoring Contagious Animals 11
2. Biosecurity Concerns and the Surveillance of Zoonoses 29
3. Global Health and the Ecologies of Conservation 44
Part II. Techniques of Preparedness
4. Sentinels and Early Warning Signals 69
5. Simulations and Reverse Scenarios 108
6. Stockpiling and Storage 139
Conclusion 173
Notes 179
Bibliography  211
Index  237

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