Biorisk Intelligence otherwise: Scenarios, Visual Knowledge and new Mechanisms of Surveillance
Location 134
Date and Start Time 02 September, 2016 at 11:00
Sessions 2


  • Francisco Tirado (Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona) email
  • Enrique Baleriola (Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona ) email
  • Swen Seebach (UAB (Autonomous University Barcelona)) email
  • Jose Cañada (University of Helsinki) email

Mail All Convenors

Short Abstract

Fictional scenarios, visual knowledge and new technologies have changed epidemiology and preventive medicine.All three dimensions show that a new intelligence and a new form of governmentality about biorisk and future threats.

Long Abstract

The outbreaks of Ebola or Avian Flu have showed that classical knowledge about and technologies of epidemiology and preventive medicine have undergone deep transformations. The typical statistics and risk analysis have become replaced by different practices and discourses characterized by three dimensions: a) First, fictional scenarios appear as the keystone in order to elaborate protocols of intervention, and make evaluations about risk. In this sense, risk analysis is rather a product of these scenarios than their source. b) Second, all the actors involved in a biological phenomenon/threat produce a knowledge by the help of a massive and production of images. In fact, it is these images that appear for common people as the real phenomena/threats. c) Third, new technologies such as smartphone apps or computer software like HealthMap have appeared in order to register in real time the cases of contagion and to track in a visual way movements of an outbreak. Interrelated, new practices of biosurveillance, for instance, syndromic surveillance, have become fashionable in the biomedical world. Such new forms of surveillance do not seek to register symptoms of a disease or to track the movement of sick population or individuals; instead, they collect information about signals that are assembled in big syndromes and not in real diseases.

All three dimensions show that a new intelligence and a new form of governmentality about biorisk and future threats is emerging, opening an important number of matters and issues that need discussion especially from STS scholars.


This track is closed to new paper proposals.


Standby governance and empty networks: preparedness for global biological threats

Author: Jose Cañada (University of Helsinki)  email

Short Abstract

Global health policies have embraced preparedness as prevailing approach. Through this paradigm shift, threats have become uncertain and timeless. This translates into new governance modes which attempt at forming empty networks that will allow for quick response in case of emergency.

Long Abstract

During the last decade, national and international health institutions have embraced preparedness as the prevailing approach to deal with biological emergencies. Existing literature and biopreparedness experts describe this embrace as a paradigm shift which differentiates itself through three main traits, namely, a) threats are tackled at their source, b) all-hazards approach, i.e. policies must contemplate any kind of threat, and c) no pre-set measures, whereby policies must be flexible enough to accommodate measures depending on the event. This translates into an implementation style where threats become uncertain, undefined and, most importantly, timeless. This means that they can take any form, come any time or even not come at all. Literature has paid attention to the defining logics and the key strategies that give shape to those threats: risk assessment, scenario planning, simulation exercises are among them. In my project, through a wide array of materials - policies, acts, laws, guidelines, articles, videos, meetings, interviews, etc. -, I look at reported strategies for efficient implementation. Preliminary analysis has shown how preparedness incorporates a new governance style that I have called standby governance, whereby policies attempt to create empty and flexible networks that will, in case of biological emergency, allow for quick response in front of those undefined threats. This analysis describes the issues and problems behind the attempt at constructing such networks while making sense of the complex global and local array of actors necessary for it and the attempt to engage them.

Images and State of Emergency in Biological Treats

Authors: Enrique Baleriola (Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona )  email
Marco Maureira (Autonomous University of Barcelona)  email
Pedro Torrejón Cano (Universidad Autónoma de Barcelona )  email
Clara Méndez Hernández (Universitat Autónoma de Barcelona)  email

Short Abstract

Images have accompanied the social from its origin.We want to reclaim their original status throughout the concept of State of Emergency. We will show some images from recent epidemics (zika, ebola...) understood as scenarios in order to unfold what is an state of emergency and their implications.

Long Abstract

Images have accompanied the social from its origin. Despite having their own ontological status in a historical period, they are currently subordinated by text and discourse, becoming just the mere illustrations of the text meaning. We want to recover the original sense about images, starting from the latest theories about Visual Culture or Visual Anthropology.

On the other hand, as part of our current Study Case about epidemics and biosurveillance, we will expose our particular idea about scenario, what in preparedness for epidemics traditionally means a story illustrating visions of possible future or aspects of possible future (Joint Research Center). The novelty of this work is to present images about different pandemics as scenarios, where biomedical and legal knowledge is inlaid. Actually, images work as states of emergency in a wider and updated sense than Giorgio Agamben. On them, not only politics and biomedics are undifferentiated, but also future and past, or History.

For this purpose, we will bring some samples about this Study Case, showing images about the last ebola, N1H1 or Zika epidemics extracted from European legislations, Spanish protocols and media news or some Focus Groups we are carrying out.

For this reason, we request any audiovisual device in order to project the material. With this work, we pretend to go forward in the research performed by other STS authors like Andrew Lakoff or Carlo Caduff; and also in the theoretical work from Gilles Deleuze, Walter Benjamin or Sarah Pink.

Between Panic and Panic - Fear as a Dangerous Balance in Epidemic Governance

Authors: Swen Seebach (UAB (Autonomous University Barcelona))  email
Marco Maureira (Autonomous University of Barcelona)  email
Pedro Torrejón Cano (Universidad Autónoma de Barcelona )  email
Clara Méndez Hernández (Universitat Autónoma de Barcelona)  email

Short Abstract

This paper argues that a regime of pandemic preparedness can only be installed in the form of fear balancing two forms of panic, controlling present and future. Observations from focus groups will shed light on the construction and management of fear under a horizon of global pandemic threats.

Long Abstract

The role that global threats play in the governance of society and its members is undeniable. During the last decade epidemics, such as Ebola, Avian Flu, SARS and Zika have taken over the role of a mediator between a general appeal to engage carefully and with the necessary foresight with the future, and the concrete forms in which people might and are called to react. As temporary myths they allow the perpetuation of a general regime of preparedness for whatever the future will bring.

In his book Pandemic Perhaps, Caduff writes that "Endemic to pandemic preparedness as a structure of mobilization was a fundamental tension between the need to promote a sense of urgency, on the one hand, and the imperative to avoid panic and overreaction, on the other."

This paper argues that such a regime of pandemic preparedness can only be installed in the form of fear as a pivotal point between two forms of panic. Whilst an overemphasis of possible risks in the present would destroy people's trust into the future and therefore any sense of control, a lack of emphasis would lead to a panic in the case that really something happened. Fear instead balances these two forms of panic and brings them under different forms of individual and social control.

Within various focus groups we discovered such fears even if covered by layers of scepticism and doubt. We want to argue that doubts and scepticisms are discourse immanent strategies to reply to an excess of risk.

Scenarios as modes of existence in knowledge about biological threats

Authors: Francisco Tirado (Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona)  email
Marco Maureira (Autonomous University of Barcelona)  email
Enrique Baleriola (Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona )  email
Mariana Gavris (Autonomous University of Barcelona)  email

Short Abstract

Scenarios to think biological threats are modes of existence. They are truth-making procedure. So, they operate building states of exception; they produce images of exception and; life is considered the subject and the object of its monitoring. Ebola pandemics will be our empirical work.

Long Abstract

In the last decade, the notion of scenario has become especially relevant in all the sciences related with biological threats. Even more, from these, the notion has started to spread to other knowledge areas such as Physics, Psychology, Sociology and so on. In the case of the former mentioned sciences, the work with scenarios is so relevant that is replacing the old risk calculation and is determining the elaboration of both protocols and preparedness plans of intervention in biological emergencies. Scenarios are usually presented as models in order to analyse the development of several factors in a situation of biological menace. The knowledge produced in this way is established to think about the future threat and the present reaction. Our paper, first, will puts forward that scenarios are something more complex than a neutral model of studying biological menaces. Second, we will pose that scenarios can be considered a logic well described by the concept of "mode of existence" defended by Latour recently. That is to say, scenarios are a real truth-making procedure and therefore they are becoming the unique logic in order to produce truth and knowledge when we think about life threats. Finally, we will describe the main characteristics of this new mode of existence: a) it operates building states of exception; b) it produces images of exception and; c) life is considered at the same time the subject and the object of its very monitoring. We will do all these proposals analysing recent scenarios about the pandemics of Ebola.

Biosrisk Interventions as creative ontoecologies.

Author: Mara Dicenta (Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute)  email

Short Abstract

The killing of a dog in Spain during the Ebola outbreak in 2014 ignited questions of biosecurity and multi-species encounters. My analysis of the case shows that biorisk and biosecurity studies provide a prism for understanding how the ethical and ontological status of nonhumans are negotiated.

Long Abstract

During the Ebola outbreak in 2014, a nurse in Madrid got infected after encountering a repatriated missionary who had contracted Ebola. The nurse had a dog, Excalibur, who was subsequently killed after being deemed a health-security risk. Based on an analysis of how the story was reported in the news, I argue that the dog, Excalibur, was enacted as at least three different dogs: infected, "zoonosing" (contagiousness across species), and alive/dead. The three different biorisk-dogs were entangled with different practices of knowledge, power, governmentality and co-habitation.

Minimizing risks under urgency leads to "imaginative enactments" (Collier and Lakoff 2008) in different forms, which took place in the treatment of the Spanish repatriated priest by reestablishing a previously dismantled public hospital as a quarantine unit. However, instead of managing the risk of Excalibur-with-Ebola, or the management of the crisis space around Excalibur, the Spanish authorities collapsed the distinction between the risk of Ebola and Excalibur, thus producing no imaginative enactment for Excalibur-as-dog/pet.

This treatment lead to people *and* pets to protest, materializing an emergent ecology of the multi-species public. I suggest that the study of biorisk interventions is a privileged space to explore the constitution of different political objects such as viruses, humans, or pets, but also to extend the ontological turn beyond the notion of 'multi-species family' to 'multi-species publics' as an example of an urban "ontoecology" (Bryant, 2011).

Western cities and the framing of pandemic risk

Author: Elisa Pieri (University of Manchester)  email

Short Abstract

This paper is based on ongoing research that investigates how cities in the West securitise against global pandemics, and the social implications that arise. It explores how the risk of pandemic contagion is constructed, and how cities prepare to avert and respond to threats of infection.

Long Abstract

This paper is based on ongoing research that investigates how cities in the West securitise against global pandemics, focusing principally on the social implications that arise. Pandemics pose new and difficult challenges, not least in relation to mapping and controlling contagion beyond the immediate locations of disease outbreak. The recent unfolding of the Ebola crisis, the 2002-3 SARS epidemic and the 2008-9 H1N1 flu pandemic illustrate some of the implications and added complexities of increased connectivity. The risk of pandemic outbreaks prompts emergency responses to rapidly diffuse, as a range of actors seek to act concertedly and, where possible, pre-emptively.

Risks associated with the spread of pandemics generate intense and high-profile speculation in Western media. Taking the recent Ebola outbreak as a case study, the paper critically analyses how the risk of pandemic contagion in Europe and the UK has been framed in UK media and policy discourse. Drawing on an STS-informed approach towards the processes of futuring, the paper critically discusses the impacts of the dominant framings of pandemic risk. The paper focuses attention towards the media re-framing of the humanitarian health crisis into a security threat primarily, as well as towards the scenarios and some of the technologies mobilised as a result.

Biopolitical surveilance and acceleration: the case of Explicit Health Guarantees Regime (GES) in Chile.

Authors: Jorge Castillo-Sepúlveda (University of Santiago de Chile)  email
María Isabel Reyes Espejo (Pontificia Universidad Católica de Valparaíso)  email

Short Abstract

This paper discusses some implications of the Explicit Health Guarantees Regime (GES) in Chile as an epidemiological surveillance system and biopolitical vector. From a material-semiotic approach it analyses the biopolitical effects of the protocols for the management of time in health scenarios.

Long Abstract

In the last decade it has been enacted a complex relationship diagram between epistemic, regulatory and economic entities, constituent of a new surveillance and treatment system for population longevity in Chile. The Regime of Explicit Health Guarantees (GES) consists of a cumulus of health problems (currently 80) for which it has been established activities, technologies and temporalities that guide their diagnosis and treatment. This regime is considered as a special case to examine emerging modes of relationship between epidemiology, life technologies and governmentality, which are based on: (a) the production of evidence for disease processes that is poured into the development of protocols; (B) the coordination between services traditionally differentiated by modes of economic management; and (c) the generation of technologies to manage all this process, specifically those that deal with materials and temporalities. This paper discusses some biopolitical implications of protocols about time on the regime from a material-semiotic approach. The background of GES and empirical elements associated with ethnographic observations and interviews around the time monitoring and self-monitoring in diseases processes, specifically in relation to SIGGES software (System Management for Explicit Health Guarantees), are presented. We conclude around three axes associated to biopolitical acceleration in the regime: (1) temporary control system is constituted as a vector of actions distributed in different spaces; (2) the temporality surveillance sets certain subjectification effects; (3) time control acquires the property of assigning values ​​to biological processes and also distribute the value of certain organs and functions rather than others.

Alternative actors and their relevance for emergency warning systems

Authors: Mariana Gavris (Autonomous University of Barcelona)  email
Swen Seebach (UAB (Autonomous University Barcelona))  email
Pedro Torrejón Cano (Universidad Autónoma de Barcelona )  email
Francisco Tirado (Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona)  email

Short Abstract

The paper propose to debate on the performance by other means of alternative actors during an emergency crisis; focusing on the warning system's, on the moment before design proposal and on uses given to content (incl. visual) on virtual platforms through co-design in (open)knowledge proposals.

Long Abstract

The 2009 A(H1N1)pandemic event marks a turning point in the design on the emergence proposals, especially on global health. We propose the debate on alternative actors as mediators with capacity to perform as vectors in the creation of other possible futures (besides projected futurist scenarios plans).

From a deleuzian vision, we propose to see the virtual platforms as condition of possibility that permit and facilitate not only the translation of the knowledge movement (inform), but furthermore performing as active tool for (it's) transformation (use) of the emergency health information. Checking that on digital world, skilled actors can visualize and perform on the background articulations of the emergency knowledge design.

The sensation of being part of this global apparatus, it is considered "as advantage in terms of information and communication access". Whereas in global health security and surveillance, "global" seen as a sum up a space of interconnections potentially global, but that depend on performance with local conditions of possibility of actors involved and the use they give to knowledge (Latour1999, Blouin Genest, G.2015).

We propose debate on escape lines on development of the science as politics by other means (Latour,1993) to discuss on scenarios design, ethics in technoscience and critical global health. Also, on alternative performance of data use after events.

Based on focus group result working with different actors, we see that multitude (Hardt&Negri, 2004) could propose escape lines to attune knowledge and technologies to possible (diseased) bodies and scales involved.

Bio-objectifing air through technoscientific practices

Author: Attila Bruni (Trento University)  email

Short Abstract

The contribution is inspired by the direct observation of the activity of a university laboratory, pioneering for the analysis of Particulate Matter (PM) and Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs). The paper focuses on the practices through which air is bio-objectified.

Long Abstract

The present work aims to contribute to the current debate concerning bio-objects with reference to a paradigmatic case, such as the analysis of air quality.

The contribution is inspired by the direct observation of the activity of a university laboratory of environmental sustainability, pioneering for the analysis of Particulate Matter (PM) and Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs). Both the PM that VOCs are normally present in the air as pollutants emitted from different sources and their presence in outdoor air is already the subject of study and, in some cases, monitoring and regulation (as for PM10 or benzene). But the PM and VOCs are also present in the indoor air, i.e. all those living and working environments where industrial activities are not carried out (homes, offices, schools, hospitals, means of transport). In many cases, VOCs are emitted from building materials and furnishings, some VOCs, then, are odorous substances and can cause olfactory harassment. Finally, VOCs are also present in the exhaled human and some of them may be useful markers for the identification of specific diseases.

All these lines of research are new to the scientific community and, to date, there are no methodologies shared and unified procedures for sampling and analysis. The paper will focus on the practices of 'characterization' of the air, showing how it becomes an object multiple, which in turn acquires meaning in relation to specific problems, issues and processes of bio-objectification.

This track is closed to new paper proposals.