Disease Interventions, Empire, and the Government of Species


ANIMA: Critical Race Studies Otherwise

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Book Pages: 288 Illustrations: 19 illustrations Published: April 2016

Author: Neel Ahuja

American Studies, Critical Ethnic Studies, Postcolonial and Colonial Studies

In Bioinsecurities Neel Ahuja argues that U.S. imperial expansion has been shaped by the attempts of health and military officials to control the interactions of humans, animals, viruses, and bacteria at the borders of U.S. influence, a phenomenon called the government of species. The book explores efforts to control the spread of Hansen's disease, venereal disease, polio, smallpox, and HIV through interventions linking the continental United States to Hawai'i, Panamá, Puerto Rico, Cuba, Congo, Iraq, and India in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. Ahuja argues that racial fears of contagion helped to produce public optimism concerning state uses of pharmaceuticals, medical experimentation, military intervention, and incarceration to regulate the immune capacities of the body. In the process, the security state made the biological structures of human and animal populations into sites of struggle in the politics of empire, unleashing new patient activisms and forms of resistance to medical and military authority across the increasingly global sphere of U.S. influence.


"[T]he histories Ahuja offers in Bioinsecurities can help us to move away from the default mode of racialized panic toward more critical discourses and practices of care in the context of epidemics that cross borders and harm unevenly." — Martha Kenney, Feminist Formations

"Neel Ahuja’s work is a great example of the kind of ground-breaking interpretations of the political and historical consequences of imperialism and governance when seen through the prism of interspecies and decolonial epistemologies." — Lina Beatriz Pinto Garcia, Tecnoscienza

"After decades of publications on biosecurity, Ahuja’s title—Bioinsecurities—promises something different. . . . Ahuja has five or six analytic balls in the air at once. It is the genre that encourages and allows this, and the scholarly juggling should be applauded. The book is not and should not be read as a history of medicine, and yet it will profitably be read by medical historians." — Alison Bashford, Bulletin of the History of Medicine

“The book navigates wide-ranging cultural, scientific, and state archives with stunning clarity, all without compromising the complexity of its argument. As a result, Bioinsecurities carves out fresh possibilities for the medical humanities, as novels and short stories, films and photographs, memoirs and epistles appear side-by-side with government reports, immigration acts, and lab research to document tensions and struggles inhering the biopolitical relations of a modern U.S. security state.” — James Fitz Gerald, symploke

"In promoting both a transborder and transspecies approach to the relations between public health and empire, Bioinsecurities not only furthers our understanding of each, but also adds a nuanced attention to race and empire to contemporary scholarship in animal studies and the environmental humanities." — Sarah D. Wald, Journal of Asian American Studies

"Bioinsecurities not only adds to an important and growing body of work focused on imperial medicine and technologies of surveillance, but also represents a considerable contribution to conversations within the ANIMA series that work to reconceptualize the parameters of life." — Christopher Perreira, English Language Notes

Bioinsecurities is an important book that speaks to the intertwined racial projects of military, imperial securitization, and disease control, which is particularly timely.” — Claire Laurier Decoteau, Technology and Culture

"Incisive vivisection of the interspecies politics of American empire and global biosecurity. . . . Ahuja’s work offers trenchant and timely political diagnoses that should attract a wide readership, particularly as it spans (and highlights the linkages between) the humanities, social sciences, and STEM fields. . . . With its comparative, multi-cited, and interdisciplinary analysis, Bioinsecurities offers an important and timely contribution to our understanding of the interspecies dimension of US empire and its possible futures." — Shanon Fitzpatrick, Journal of American Studies

"Bioinsecurities describes with vivid detail how empire operates on a scale that is at once global and microscopic, stretching from the Hawai’ian territo-ries to the Panama Canal Zone to US-occupied Iraq." — Russ Castronovo, American Literature

"Bioinsecurities unsettles human life in its most primal manifestations. Using 'dread life' to describe the racializing process that converts fear of infectious disease into hopeful embrace of the life-preserving and life-making possibilities of technology, Neel Ahuja documents a planetary poetics that channels living forces into the relations of governance. Bioinsecurities is impressive for the scope of its vision and its meticulous attention to detail and nuance. In its careful articulation of the thoroughness of imperial world-making, it offers the possibility of and inspiration for change."  — Priscilla Wald, author of Contagious: Cultures, Carriers, and the Outbreak Narrative

"Bioinsecurities unravels the twentieth-century U.S. obsession with disease control, health security, and racialized suspicions. Adeptly harnessing law, fiction, film, and medical research, Neel Ahuja brilliantly tracks how militarized interventions and medical solutions to contain Hansen's disease, smallpox, polio, and AIDS intensified interspecies entanglements between humans, animals, bacteria, and viruses. Ahuja boldly redirects studies of biocitizenship and empire toward a fresh approach to the political as a lively and viscous zone of embodied connection and affective friction."  — Nayan Shah, author of Stranger Intimacy and Contagious Divides


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Neel Ahuja is Associate Professor of English, Comparative Literature, and Geography at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Preface: Empire in Life  vii

Acknowledgments  xvii

Introduction. Dread Life: Disease Interventions and the Intimacies of Empire  1

1. "An Atmosphere of Leprosy": Hansen's Disease, the Dependent Body, and the Transoceanic Politics of Hawaiian Annexation  29

2. Medicalized States of War: Venereal Disease and the Risks of Occupation in Wartime Panamá  71

3. Domesticating Immunity: The Polio Scare, Cold War Mobility, and the Vivisected Primate  101

4. Staging Smallpox: Reanimating Variola in the Iraq War  133

5. Refugee Medicine, HIV, and a "Humanitarian Camp" at Guantánamo  169

Epilogue. Species War and the Planetary Horizon of Security  195

Notes   207

Bibliography  231

Index  249
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Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-6063-6 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-6048-3