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Accepted Paper:

Materialist Virology: Racial Capitalism and Queer and Trans of Color Critique  
Jih-Fei Cheng (Scripps College)

Short abstract:

Materialist virology is a queer and trans of color STS method for historicizing virus knowledge. This paper uses it to study the foundational “tobacco mosaic virus” and ask: How have settler colonial plantation economies shaped the emergence of HIV/AIDS and COVID-19 and global medical apartheid?

Long abstract:

In the 1980s, US-based HIV/AIDS activists initiated the slogan of “drugs into bodies.” By the 1990s, queer radical thinking and politics transformed their call into “healthcare not warfare.” These activists’ agenda became explicitly anti-capitalist and increasingly anti-war with the aim of building global South solidarity. COVID-19 has prompted present-day activists to build on HIV/AIDS activists’ intersectional and internationalist movements to redouble coalitions and redistribute care for collective survival.

To further intersectional analyses and internationalist solidarities, this paper historicizes the knowledge generated about viruses by using a queer and trans of color STS approach it terms materialist virology. It demonstrates materialist virology, as a method and a historical study of virology by revisiting its emergence, beginning with Dutch botanist Martinus Beijerinck’s late nineteenth-century conceptualization of the inaugural “tobacco mosaic virus” (TMV). Materialist virology is deployed to examine archival scientific literature and media produced on tobacco—a plant indigenous to the Americas— as a model for plantation agriculture and industrial monocropping which together laid the foundation for the twentieth-century US-led field of virology and racial capitalism. TMV presents a blueprint for today’s mass extraction, state-sponsored and military imperial violence, ecosystem dismantle, and globalized crises. What is the relationship between historical tobacco plantation agriculture to viral disease emergence among humans and other animals? Between the racialized labor of settler colonial plantation agriculture and the global medical apartheid maintained by policing and military violence in the age of HIV/AIDS and COVID-19?

Traditional Open Panel P333
Knowledge of HIV/AIDS in STS: archives, science, and participation
  Session 2