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Risky Zoographies: The Limits of Place in Avian Flu Management

Author(s): Natalie Porter

Journal: Environmental Humanities
ISSN 2201-1919

Volume: 1;
Start page: 103;
Date: 2012;
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Global anxieties about avian influenza stem from a growing recognition that highly-virulent, highly-mobile disease vectors infiltrate human spaces in ways that are difficult to perceive, and even more difficult to manage. This article analyses a participatory health intervention in Việt Nam to explore how avian influenza threats challenge long-held understandings of animals’ place in the environment and society. In this intervention, poultry farmers collaborated with health workers to illustrate maps of avian flu risks in their communities. Participant-observation of the risk-mapping exercises shows that health workers treated poultry as commodities, and located these animals in environments that could be transformed and dominated by humans. However, these maps did not sufficiently represent the physical and social landscapes where humans and poultry coexist in Việt Nam. As such, farmers located poultry in environments dominated by risky nonhuman forces such as winds, waterways, and other organisms. I argue that these divergent risk maps demonstrate how ecological factors, interpersonal networks, and global market dynamics combine to engender a variety of interspecies relationships, which in turn shape the location of disease risks in space. I develop the term risky zoographies to signal the emergence of competing descriptions of animals and their habitats in zoonotic disease contexts. This concept suggests that as wild animals, livestock products, and microbial pathogens continue to globalise, place-based health interventions that limit animals to particular locales are proving inadequate. Risky zoographies signal the inextricability of nonhuman animals from human spaces, and reveal interspecies interactions that transect and transcend environments.
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