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  • Bioinsecurities: Disease Interventions, Empire, and the Government of Species by Neel Ahuja
  • Alison Bashford
Neel Ahuja. Bioinsecurities: Disease Interventions, Empire, and the Government of Species. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 2016. xix + 262 pp. Ill. $24.95 (978-0-8223-6063-6).

After decades of publications on biosecurity, Ahuja's title—Bioinsecurities—promises something different. On the one hand, there is much that is familiar to a generation of medical historians for whom the connection between microbes, humans, nonhumans, and national and imperial polities and politics is standard fare. Ahuja rehearses scholarship on the racialization of borders and epidemic control, and a Foucauldian generation's work on the government and risk management of communicable disease. On the other hand, there is a larger argument that is more novel. Ahuja tracks how, over the twentieth century, fear of disease became a kind of hope, an optimism. It all underwrote, and produced, not so much a security state as an apparently protective state; "the imperial state as protector of life" (p. 5).

This book is a cultural study of infectious disease and U.S. empire, drawn in part from the long tradition of histories of colonial medicine, but in far larger part from post-Foucault, feminist, and postcolonial science and cultural studies. What makes this a 2016 scholarly intervention and not, say, a 1996 or 2006 cultural history of disease, government, freedoms, and biosecurity is Ahuja's integration of animal studies and interspecies analysis. The book is part of Duke's "Anima" series. At the same time, and with some benign contradiction, he takes a strong cue from scholarship on "affect," the power of emotional and visceral responses largely of humans.

Bioinsecurities is structured by "space," "time," and "scale." The opening chapters are organized around the geographies of health segregation. These will be most familiar to medical historians. Ahuja considers two sites where imperial/ racial management and microbial/health management coincided: Hawaii, with a focus on the leper colony on Molokai; and the segregation of the venereally infected, or suspected, in the Panama region in wartime. Ahuja seeks to align these segregative impulses with a U.S. ambition toward benign empire. The chapter on regulation of sex workers and control of venereal disease argues that antimalarial campaigns were its inspiration. The idea that mobile, not stationary, sanitary cordons were constructed around soldiers is interesting. And Ahuja's suggestion that local antimalarial campaigns were the model is worth considering in an historical field that tends to presume inspiration from the longer history of spatial/sexual management of venereal disease.

The chapter on leprosy in Hawaii argues against the idea that segregative sites were "camps" for annihilation or extermination. Rather they were a productive part of the government of civic subjects, even of liberal reform. But who argues, or ever argued, the former? In fact, this interpretation of sites of medical segregation, including leper colonies, is long-accepted. That sites of modern medical isolation were almost always sites of civic production was already familiar long before Agamben, camps, bare life, and necropolitics entered scholarship via adjacent disciplines, and that some time ago. [End Page 674]

The "time" section tracks a shift toward a pharmaceutical model of prevention, with an interest in vaccines. This chapter is far more novel, documenting primate research undertaken in the development of polio vaccines. Ahuja analyzes NIH-initiated, but offshore-located, primate research laboratories in Puerto Rico and in Central Africa. He thus moves forward in time (to the decolonizing years and Cold War era), but the ambition to conceptualize this chapter through and about time is not entirely successful. The successive space/time/scale logic of his book seems imposed rather than organic, at least in this chapter.

And yet the "scale" logic does assist our understanding of security and bioinsecurity in the final two chapters. "Scale," for Ahuja, signals the emergence of international health in more recent decades, as well as the broadening drug-based prophylaxis on a global level. He analyzes smallpox; not the classic eradication program, but refreshingly the smallpox vaccination program in the Iraq War. The final chapter concerns early HIV/AIDS prevention, and its entanglement with Haitian refugees. Here, the return...


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