SoAH Research Platform: Infectious Planet: Decolonise or Become Extinct

This event will think the rise of zoonotic diseases together with extractivist, neo-colonial and racialised capitalism. It will ask: how does global capitalism’s relentless extraction of natural resources and landscapes, together with the world building capacities of racialiased peoples drive a state of planetary contagion? 

The pandemic has helped to perfect biopolitical forms of telematic control together with self-immunising and paranoiac notions of sovereignty which already underwrite our divisive and segregating world system. What is the relationship between the dynamics of immunisation and contagion?

This event will think through what diseases transmitted from animals to humans, caused by the human attack on their habitats, can teach us about ourselves, our cultures, our ways of living. The focus on contagion, however, will not prevent us from concentrating on the importance of community, social interactions, and non-productive modes of relation in sustaining life. 

Hosted by Dr. Josephine Berry

Abstracts/bios

How Nonhuman Species Inhabit Extractivist Economies: The Case of the Plague in Madagascar 

The colonization of primary forests has made them increasingly pathogenic to wild animals and people, as species populations are crowded into smaller spaces and novel viruses are churned up from forest floors. In addition, human-induced climate change pushes insect vectors into new territories. At times when zoonotic outbreaks have hobbled modern economies, states have turned to the extraction and manipulation of animal matter for vaccines, and the extermination of pests as a means of sustaining the status quo.  The case of the bubonic plague in Madagascar illustrates how the bacteria, introduced to the island at the peak of European imperial expansion in 1898, spread in the bodies of black rats, fleas, and people through colonial development projects. Today, as rats are recruited into lab experiments that may lead to solutions, the plague bacillus and rat bodies in “the wild” are rapidly evolving in soils and bodies altered by technological inputs. This case raises the question of whether extractivism can bridge the ever-widening gaps between animal-borne pathogens and transgenic cures. 

Genese Marie Sodikoff is an associate professor of anthropology at Rutgers University, Newark. Since 1994, her research has focused on Madagascar’s political ecology, including the labour politics of biodiversity conservation and cultural and biotic extinction events.  Her current project focusses on the impact of zoonotic diseases, particularly the bubonic plague, on Malagasy funerary practices and beliefs in the afterlife. She is the author of Forest and Labor in Madagascar: From Colonial Concession to Global Biosphere, and the editor of The Anthropology of Extinction: Essays on Culture and Species Death.

What Viruses Know About Politics?

In 2014, social theorist Brian Massumi authored What Animals Teach Us About Politics? “an extended thought experiment in what an animal politics can be”. Six years later, humanity’s belonging to the animal realm has never been so asserted, as human-induced climate change renders the global entanglement of causes and consequences visible and epidemics reveal the continuous transactions taking place across organisms. If the extractivist logic of “us” [humans] learning from “them” [animals] has been broken, it is now time to explore what other politics and ethics can living and non-living beings shatter and inaugurate.

Filipa Ramos is a Lisbon-born writer and lecturer based in London. She is Curator of Art Basel Film and co-curator of “Bodies of Water”, the 13th Shanghai Biennale (2021). Her research looks at human’s engagement with animals in the contexts of art and artists’ cinema. Her essays and texts have been published in magazines and books worldwide. She co-founded and co-curates Vdrome, a programme of screenings of artists’ films.
She is Lecturer at the MRes Art at Central Saint Martins, London, and the Master Programme of the Arts Institute of the Hochschule für Gestaltung und Kunst, Fachhochschule Nordwestschweiz, Basel.

She was Editor in Chief of art-agenda, Associate Editor of Manifesta Journal and contributed for Documenta 13 (2012) and 14 (2017). She edited Animals (Whitechapel Gallery/MIT Press, 2016) and curated the group exhibition “Animalesque” (Bildmuseet Umeå, Summer 2019 / BALTIC, Gateshead, Winter 2019/20). She curates the ongoing festival The Shape of a Circle in the Mind of a Fish with Lucia Pietroiusti for the Serpentine Galleries. 

Navigating the Pluriverse: Fictioning, Science and Interspecies Communication

Mer Maggie Roberts will present the ideas underpinning and informing the Becoming Octopus sessions, conceived of as meditations to be experienced online during the recent Covid-19 global lockdowns. These sessions deliberately harness the spaces of intimacy, self-reflection, slowed time and anxiety that defined the emergent virtual communities, urging us to value imagination and interspecies communication as tools for inhabiting the Pluriverse and for resisting surveillance capitalism and its proscription of the Real. Amitav Ghosh’s The Great Derangement, Donna Haraway’s Staying with the Trouble, Jeff Vandermeer’s weird materialism science fictions and the multidimensional worldview of a Kalahari Bushmen Creative Collective in the Northern Cape province of South Africa are key to the artist’s current thinking.

Mer Maggie Roberts’ practice is underpinned by themes of machine vision, speculative worlds, shamanism & techno-human evolution. Roberts explores these individually and as part of the collaborative artist 0rphan Drift (which she co-founded in 1994). Her methodology involves detailed research, immersive multimedia installation and cross disciplinary collaborations with scientists, theorists, musicians, coders, digital artists and activists. Collaborating with Etic Lab and the Serpentine’s Creative AI Lab, current projects consider Artificial Intelligence through the somatic tendencies of the octopus, exploring other systems of perception and proprioception.

Recent exhibitions include Becoming Octopus (2020); If AI were Cephalopod, Telematic Gallery San Francisco (Artforum’s Critic’s Choice, 2019); Still I Rise: Feminisms, Gender and Resistance Nottingham Contemporary (2018); Unruly City, Dold Projects, St. Georgen, Germany, Matter Fictions, Berardo Museum, Lisbon (2016). Featured in Fictioning, the Myth-Functions of Contemporary Art and Philosophy by David Burrows and Simon O’Sullivan, Edinburgh University Press (2019). Research Fellow with Goldsmiths University Visual Cultures Department symposia include KrakenThe Shaping of a MessageRituals in Liquidity and Everting the Virtual.