Endemic: Essays in Contagion Theory

full name / name of organization: 
Kari Nixon, Southern Methodist University; Lorenzo Servitje, University of California, Riverside
contact email: 
mnixon@mail.smu.edu; lserv001@ucr.edu

Endemic: Essays in Contagion Theory

This call for proposals invites interdisciplinary approaches toward the development of an edited collection on contagion theory. The goal of this project is to build upon nascent foundational texts, such as Priscilla Wald’s 2001 _Contagious_ and Laura Otis’s 1999 _Membranes_, and hone this formative work in light of recent technological and socio-cultural developments.

These landmark texts elucidated the social construction of germ theory and the discourse surrounding epidemics in a globalized world. Endemic seeks to explore the further productive potential of theorizing contagion in an era where cancerous lesions and cardiac failure provoke more fear than cholera.

While the 1980s to late 90’s could well be characterized by a penchant for genetic ontologies, it appears that the last ten to fifteen years has seen a societal shift towards understanding the world through an infectious lens—even as contagious diseases seem rather sapped of their virulent potential in the postmodern context. It seems that “going viral” is a pervasively endemic postmodern condition and that everything is communicable—fears (especially of non-contagious illnesses), media campaigns (such as Susan G. Komen’s so-called “pink-washing” efforts), social activism (the pandemic spread of 5k-philanthropy), viral videos and memes, and so forth.

Drawing from medical humanities, STS, literature, medical history, technocultural and new media studies, this collection aims to build upon the extant body of literature on contagion and disease and work toward a multi-modal theory of contagion and contagion studies, virality, and viral media. Endemic will conceptualize historical and contemporaneous narratives and instances of “pathogenic” communicability to understand what contagion means in a post-microbiological age.

To this end, the collection will explore contagion theory from the vantage point of the era of “Microbe Hunting” in the fin-de-siècle, but will predominantly look forward in time to the twentieth century and on to the present day, while incorporating a variety of biopolitical, scientific, technological, and media discourses to account for the rapid growth of technology in the last ten years. Although essays grounded in literature or film are welcome, given the heavily theoretical aims of this text, we especially encourage proposals that articulate that how contagion and virality can be used as a new critical approach that dynamically coalesces with the whole of humanities and STS.

Possible topics and questions to address include but are not limited to
- How can we complicate the increase in contagiousness beyond the notion that is driven by social media and an increasing connected and mobile world?
- How can we account for the waning social perception of threat from infectious diseases in the postmodern context alongside the ever-encroaching age of antibiotic resistance and epidemics that threaten in absence of cures (MERS, Ebola, etc.)
- How are postmodern narratives of techno-scientific authority shaped by visual and written narrative structures, and how are they still influenced by the history of humanity’s fraught interactions with microbes?
- How have concepts of “risk” and “contagion” coalesced, diverged, and engaged in mutually constitutive pathways in this century?
- How has the concept of contagion developed alongside narrative styles and scientific specialization and discourse? Theoretical questions might also productively examine the epistemological boundaries among “disease,” “contagion,” “infection,” and “contaminant.”
- How might we account for the virality of time-sensitive diagnoses? Hysteria in the 19th century is one clear example, but what of the controversy over DID that has taken the APA by storm in the last 15 years? Other considerations might address fibromyalgia, CFS, mitochondrial disease, or PANDAS.

Essays need not address virality in the strict sense of the word and limit their scope to viruses but can focus on any part of contagion, infection, epidemic spread, bacteriology, or microbiology

Please send 500 word abstracts to M. Kari Nixon (mnixon@mail.smu.edu) and Lorenzo Servitje (lserv001@ucr.edu) by September 1st

cfp categories: 
modernist studies