Charles Briggs

On the Infectious Affinities of Viruses, Plants, and Dying Human Bodies

Species’ Shifting Boundaries and Uncertain Futures

This presentation charts the emergence of precarious futures by conjuring a space between medical anthropology, multispecies ethnography, linguistic anthropology, and zoonosis (exchanges of pathogens between humans and nonhumans). Its analytic task is akin to tossing a deck of cards into the air and trying to grasp how different beings would read their novel configuration. Here the entities unpredictably thrown together include humans, plants, bats, chickens, and viruses, and the forces that induce unforeseeable rearrangements include state efforts to turn environmental destruction into social justice, alternative indigenous socialisms that grant plants agency in imagining futures, and climate change. By tracing how assemblages of rabies viruses and human nerve cells occasion more-than-human speech acts and plants sensorily move between healers’ and patients’ bodies, it pushes against boundaries that would isolate species, ontologies, and subdisciplines. 

Discussant: Jennifer Telesca, Assistant Professor of Environmental Justice, Pratt Institute

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