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Pathological Lives: on the cosmopolitics of losing self-assurance

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We live in resurgent microbial times. From the ‘volatile world of influenza viruses’ (WHO, 2015) to the circulation of antimicrobial genes across populations of bacteria, this is a bio-insecure world. It is a world where the smallest of organisms threatens the edifices of modern life (medicine, food production, infrastructures, mobility, freedoms, security and so on). In this paper I refer to two responses. First, there is the establishment of a common and singular good life, or One Health. Here, pathological lives are constructed as an outside threat to the norms of health and good life. Second, and in contrast, there is a cosmopolitics, wherein norms are questioned rather than re-established. Here, emergent microbes and circulating resistant genes are not so much a threat to good life as a ‘passing fright that scares self-assurance’ (Stengers 2005). They can help to generate a situation with power to make us think. In this second, cosmopolitical approach, pathological lives are not so much the problem, but are part of the solution. They require us to pursue a different common world, a common sensing that is open to the bewildering variety of what it means to be both in touch with and touched by ‘reality’ (Stengers 2009: 38).

This talk is part of the Department of Geography - main Departmental seminar series series.

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