Biosecurity practices in labs and museums: sentinels, simulation, stockpiling

April 27, 2015

Ethnographic museums and microbiology labs can be considered as spaces where living materials are increasingly moving under more and more controlled conditions. An anthropology of biosecurity asks the following question: how do experts formulate this contradictory definition of life as what needs to circulate and what must be secured? It investigates the relations between vital infrastructures and potentially catastrophic events as techniques of preparedness, that is, imaginary enactments of a radical disruption. Based on a long-term research at the Pasteur Centre in Hong Kong and on a recent participatory observation at the Musée du quai Branly in Paris, this conference will distinguish three techniques of preparedness: sentinels sending early warning signals of invisible catastrophes, simulations based on scenarios engaging the public, stockpiling or storage of specimens defining the value of a new object. This comparison between two different forms emerging around the same time allows to raise questions on the contemporary transformations of museums in relation to colonial practices of collecting.

Frederic KeckFrédéric Keck is the head of the research department of the musée du quai Branly in Paris. He has published on the history of social sciences, food safety, emerging infectious diseases and human/animal relationships. He is the editor (with Andrew Lakoff) of the special issue of Limn "Sentinel Devices" (2013).