Chimeras, monsters, and friends: GMOs as metaphors for contemporary global health
Alex Nading (University of Edinburgh)
Paper short abstract:
As monsters, animal and microbial chimeras shock us into looking afresh at old relations. In particular, their novelty forces us to ask what is not new about animal-borne diseases.
Paper long abstract:
In this paper, I engage Stefan Helmreich's (2009) provocation that human relations with microbes "have social consequence, even ethical import." I show how scientists who study dengue fever have interacted, directly and indirectly, with a quasi-animal form, a chimeric dengue virus developed as part of a vaccine design project. Scientists with whom I worked found the chimera, a molecularly engineered microbe in which nonstructural dengue proteins were spliced into a yellow fever virus backbone, to be a convenient signifier for global health itself. Global health, too, was comprised of an unruly "three-headed" assemblage of capital, humanitarian, and security concerns. Drawing on the trope of the "monster" as elaborated in feminist science studies and in classic anthropological discussions of ritual, I argue that the advent of the GM virus did not create a wholly new moral landscape. Instead, the GM virus caused scientists to reflect on the way they and others already related to the non-GM version. As monsters, animal and microbial chimeras shock us into looking afresh at old relations. In particular, their novelty forces us to ask what isn't new about animal-borne diseases.
Social animals and us: anthropomorphism and animal utopias