Ethnographic Plague: Configuring Disease on the by Christos Lynteris

By Christos Lynteris

Challenging the concept because the discovery of the plague bacillus in 1894 the examine of the affliction was once ruled by way of bacteriology, Ethnographic Plague argues for the position of ethnography as a necessary contributor to the configuration of plague on the flip of the 19th century. With a spotlight on examine at the Chinese-Russian frontier, the place a sequence of pneumonic plague epidemics shook the chinese language, Russian and eastern Empires, this publication examines how local Mongols and Buryats got here to be understood as protecting a standard wisdom of the illness. Exploring the forging and results of this eye-catching thought, this ebook seeks to appreciate scientific fascination with tradition, with the intention to underline the restrictions of the employment of the latter as an explanatory classification within the context of infectious ailment epidemics, comparable to the new SARS and Ebola outbreaks.

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1911 11 12 ETHNOGRAPHIC PLAGUE Did this tragic coincidence then finally establish the microscope as a truth-teller, an indispensible identifier of plague? Lei seems not convinced that such laboratory transformation of plague actually took place on the ground. 58 The reason for this was not only pragmatic but also epistemological. Doubts about the ability of the microscope to ascertain the cause of disease haunted plague research in the course of the pandemic and, as we will see in the fifth chapter of this book, led Wu Liande himself to controversial conclusions.

136 Whereas one may be tempted to place emphasis on the affirmative, dialogical aspect of this valorisation of ‘native traditions’, Leach and Hewlett alert us towards a more critical perspective. 137 The two anthropologists are mainly concerned with the policy implications of this narrative on native culture. Yet they also offer an epistemological reading critical of INTRODUCTION 25 the operation of translating non-Western rationalities, social relations, and institutions into ‘cultural models’ compatible with and profitable to biomedical understandings of public health.

In other words, they appear not to have originated (at least in the short term) from the Yunnan sylvatic reservoir of the bacillus, believed to be the source of the third pandemic. And yet, at the time, these outbreaks were perceived and treated as part of the pandemic in its lethal course across the globe. Hence from a political and social as well as epistemological perspective they were indeed part of the third plague pandemic. As a result, plague-related knowledge and epidemiological INTRODUCTION 29 reasoning produced in the course of these local and regional outbreaks formed part of what we may call third plague pandemic epistemology and should be treated as an unalienable part of it.

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