Accepted paper:

Making urban laboratories: living with bioengineered mosquitos in Medellín


Rosie Sims (Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies)

Paper short abstract:

This paper considers how in the context of a global health technology involving the release of bioengineered mosquitos, the city of Medellín is turned into a living laboratory produced by a variety of actors, and investigates how knowledge is made in a heterogeneous and contested setting.

Paper long abstract:

The World Mosquito Program is currently releasing bioengineered mosquitos across the city of Medellín, Colombia, as a potential new global health technology to combat diseases like Zika, dengue, and chikungunya. To evidence the effectiveness and efficacy of the project, the city is cast as an urban living laboratory, through which scientists, inhabitants, and mosquitos are producing and experiencing alternative possible futures.

This urban laboratory is spatially delimited into precise grids, and temporally mapped through the weekly measuring of information from mosquitos. This laboratory is "made" by many actors - human and nonhuman - and therefore is not homogenously produced. The making of the lab involves many voices all jostling for space with various intensity, spanning from the combos (criminal groups) controlling parts of the city, to local political tensions surrounding the project, and going through the city inhabitants' homes. Indeed, to produce data required for proving the success of the project, mosquito traps are placed throughout the city, mostly in people's homes. The laboratory thus extends from the sealed insectariums into the very core of inhabitants' intimate spaces, and is co-created through the meetings of mosquitos, scientists, and inhabitants of the city.

Drawing upon 11 months of fieldwork, this paper considers how this living laboratory is produced. How do contestations arise in the meeting of science and intimate spaces, in the entanglement of actors making this laboratory? How are new socio-technical orders stabilized in these fluid and heterogeneous settings?

panel F09
Democracies of controlled experimentation? The emerging landscape of social laboratories