Monitoring Animals, Preparing Humans: An Ethnographical Study of Avian Influenza

  • Frédéric Keck
Part of the The Sciences Po Series in International Relations and Political Economy book series (SPIRP)


What are the conditions for carrying out an ethnography of avian influenza? The anthropologist who studies this phenomenon must simultaneously follow the rules of what George Marcus has termed “a multi-sited ethnography in/of the world system” and engage in what Stefan Hehmreich has described as “multispecies ethnography.”1 The study of flu viruses and of the microbiologists who hunt them does indeed entail crossing biological (in moving from one cell or animal species to the next) and political borders (in moving from Paris to Geneva, Mexico City to New York, Guangzhou to Hong Kong, and Tokyo to Phnom Penh). I have chosen to employ the ethnographic “I” in order to gather these actors of varying sizes and ontologies, who together constitute what I call a “world with flu.”2 This does not mean that this world is solely an artifact of the ethnographical study itself; in fact, it first emerged a half century ago concomitantly with the flu virus surveillance networks that were set up around the world in anticipation of a return of the 1918 pandemic. Hong Kong, where I carried out my fieldwork, had the particularity of being the place where H5N1, a very lethal virus that moves from birds to humans, was first identified in 1997. With the advent of H1N1 in 2009, an eventuality for which the territory had spent the preceding 15 years preparing, Hong Kong thus seemed to offer an excellent vantage point for taking an informed look at the global mobilization to fight the virus.


Avian Influenza H1N1 Virus Avian Influenza Virus Poultry Farm Monitoring Animal 
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© Sandrine Revet and Julien Langumier 2015

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  • Frédéric Keck

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