Accepted Paper:

Vaccines' intricacies and elusive biological processes  


Roberta Pala (University of New South Wales)

Paper short abstract:

My paper investigates the encounter between immune system and vaccine matter, considering the networks and bio-cultural implications that unravel from it. I focus on the unexplained circumstances of vaccine 'failure' in order to appreciate scientific surprises as novel and productive events.

Paper long abstract:

My paper investigates vaccines as complex material events, going beyond the current debate between pro or anti-vaccination advocates. I problematise the concept of a biological body, by focusing on the encounter between immune system and vaccine matter, and the diverse ramifications that emerge and cross over due to this intervention. I consider biological processes in terms of elusive, unfinished and interdependent cultural and ecological moments that remain contingent, learnt, diverse and not always predictable. Vaccines as biological compositions can elicit tensions and impact interconnected networks that entangle biological experiences with lifestyle choices, environmental milieus, genetic characters, nutritional habits, and contingent or random events.

I consider how STS can help to rethink those unexplained and unexpected circumstances of vaccine 'failure' and suboptimal immunization, often categorised and dismissed as rare exceptions, by regarding them as productive of new experiences. By giving voice to vaccines as more-than-human actants, and by manoeuvring different disciplinary influences, I analyse those circumstances where vaccines' workings remain elusive to scientific knowledge and control, in order to represent the ambivalence and complexity of the biological body. In this way, the paper will challenge ideas of bodily integrity, and will expose and welcome ecological perspectives of bodies' interrelatedness. This is in line with STS' ontological turn, as it moves from the epistemological focus on how scientific knowledge is produced to the more provocative question of how biological processes are enacted and played out contingently. My paper will insert itself in the current STS debate that considers the challenges of talking about a world that is in constant process.

Panel A01
Biosocial forms of living: imbricating technologies, social and medical knowledge