Cfp: Routledge Volume: Planetary Health Humanities and Pandemics
Call for Papers
Planetary Health Humanities and Pandemics
Heike Härting and Heather Meek (eds.)
In her path-breaking book on the symbiotic evolution of planetary life, Symbiotic Planet: A New Look at Evolution(1998), the biologist Lynn Margulis rethinks the common conception that viruses and germs are mere harbingers of disease and death. While undeniably causing infectious and fast-spreading disease, viruses are also, in her view, “sources of evolutionary variation” (64) and symbiotic change. As with bacteria and microbes, viruses inhabit living organisms and transform their genetic make-up. They are, Norman McLeod observes, “one of the least understood” life forms, generating, in N. Katherine Hayles’ words, “new kinds of origin stories . . . about the emergence of life on earth.” “We can no more be cured of our viruses,” Margulis remarks, “than we can be relieved of our brains’ frontal lobes: we are our viruses” (64). Thus, viruses and microbes are agents not merely of death, but also of bio-genetic and ontological planetary transformation.
What happens, then, when viruses, bacteria, and the infectious diseases they generate become the volatile ground of emerging planetary ontologies, of multiple temporalities and ‘hauntologies,’ and of conjoined regional and communal health responsibilities? How and to what end does a presumably natural “nonhuman planetmate” (Margulis 11) such as a virus or a bacterium prompt a crisis of pandemic proportions, inciting medical, cultural, and political emergencies, which, in turn, engender vastly uneven social effects and vulnerabilities, and demand, as this collection of essays suggests, a planetary response? What are, as N. Katherine Hayles asks, some of the “new thoughts” pandemics invite us “to think”?
Inspired initially by the COVID-19 pandemic, we have come to envision this collection of essays as a pluri-disciplinary project with an expanded thematic and conceptual framework that both includes and looks beyond explorations of the current global health crisis. The collection will therefore rethink what constitutes a ‘pandemic’ – drawing variously on history, science, and the literary imagination – and consider an assortment of pandemic narratives which treat, among other pathologies, plague, smallpox, tuberculosis, influenza, HIV/AIDS, Ebola, COVID-19, and various forms of addiction. Its conceptual and theoretical scope will trace the formation and representation of pandemics across intersecting discursive fields, and include the study of discourses ranging from the biomedical, cultural, and historical, to the bio-technological, political, and socio-economic.
The collection has two central aims. First, it seeks to examine different forms and contexts through which pandemics are narrated and to consider the ways in which they transform medical and political conceptions of health, the body, collectivity, and biopolitical governance. Second, working from the premise that past and current pandemics make blatantly visible the inevitable interdependence of humans, nonhumans, and their shared environment, the collection will expand and re-imagine the Health Humanities by considering it on a planetary scale. It will attempt to move away from models of scientific certainty and anthropocentric health, and rely instead on moremalleable and wide-reaching scientific and imaginative planetary epistemologies.
We expect our definition of the ‘planetary’—especially as it relates to the ‘pandemic’ and the Health Humanities—to evolve as our collection takes form, but our preliminary understanding of the term exceeds, even as it depends upon concepts such as planet Earth, geographical expanse, and the global. The planetary, in this sense, functions as a theoretical—non-anthropocentric and relational—concept and category of critique through which we might articulate what Dipesh Chakrabarty calls “habitability,” an idea that privileges “life, complex, multicellular life, in general, and what makes that, not humans alone, sustainable” (20). The planetary—like viruses, bacteria, and germs—transgresses multiple boundaries, including the human and the nonhuman, and constitutes, in William Connolly’s words, volatile, self-organizing “temporal force fields” that “impinge on each other and human life in various ways” (4). Through the prism of the ‘pandemic,’ the planetary—not being self-evident—becomes viscerally discernable through the multiple material effects of the global (i.e., climate change, fossil fuel and extraction economies, bio- and surveillance capitalism, forms of techno-positivism, and the digitalization of our life-worlds), which, in turn, trigger, accelerate, and instrumentalize pandemics. The idea of ‘Planetary Health Humanities,’ as we envision it, engages in intersectional, creative, and pluridisciplinary modes of thinking which see ‘health’ as a collection of complex processes that move within the intricate vectors of the planetary; it values relational and equitable—as opposed to strictly global or national—methods of protecting planetary life and responding to health crises.
We have tentatively organized contributions around the following three overlapping conceptual axes—each with an accompanying (preliminary and incomplete) set of questions—which we will adapt and develop to correspond with contributors’ approaches:
1) “Planetary Pandemics, Technologies, and the Historical Present”
--How do historical narratives and constructions of health and illness—in their gendered, sexualized, ecological, imperialist, and racialized dimensions—reveal the biopolitical formation of medical, scientific, and demographic attitudes and technologies of containment and control?
--How might we approach the study of health in a way that is not treatment-oriented or constrained by national and historical boundaries, but rather flexible, trans-historical, and planetary?
2) “Pandemic Epistemologies and Planetary Entanglements”
--What are the epistemological approaches and languages through which to think about pandemics and their planetary dimensions?
--Using and moving beyond Susan Sontag’s notion of illness as “onerous citizenship,” what are the frameworks, metaphors, cognitive maps, and scientific and ideological doxathrough which pandemics and infectious diseases might be articulated?
--Drawing on thinkers from Olivia Banner, Deborah Fuller, and Shoshana Zuboff, to Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, to Achille Mbembe and Arundhati Roy, in what ways might we rethink ‘the planetary’ and Foucault’s understanding of biopolitics?
--How might we think about planetary health and pandemics from the global edge of decolonial and indigenous concepts of resurgence, ‘vaccine apartheid,’ and ‘medical nativism’ or racism?
3) “Pandemic ‘Health’ Cultures and Narratives”
--How do particular case studies and narratives illustrate how pandemics affect large-scale social, political, and cultural change?
--In what ways do hegemonic narratives of pandemics—as well as political and public health advisories—change or threaten the ‘health’ of the public sphere, generate their own pathologies, transform perceptions of the body, and entrench social inequities on communal and planetary scales?
--How might we imagine and conceptualize narratives of pandemics which are premised on the importance of planetary health – ones which challenge and transform technopositivist, exceptionalist, anthropocentric, isolationist and/or gradualist notions of bio-technical and bio-medical solutions and cures
Chakrabarty, Dipesh. “The Planet: An Emergent Humanist Category.” Critical Inquiry46 (Autumn 2019): 1-31.
Connolly, William. Facing the Planetary. Entangled Humanism and the Politics of Swarming. Duke UP, 2017.
Hayles, Katherine N. “Novel Corona: Posthuman Virus.” Critical Inquiry. In the Moment. Posts from the Pandemic. https://critinq.wordpress.com/2020/04/17/novel-corona-posthuman-virus/
Margulis, Lynn. Symbiotic Planet: A New Look at Evolution.Basic Books, 1998.
McLeod, Norman. “COVID-19 Metaphors.” Critical Inquiry. In the Moment. Posts from the Pandemic.https://critinq.wordpress.com/2020/04/06/covid-19-metaphors/
Sontag, Susan. Illness andMetaphor and AIDS and Its Metaphors.Anchor Books, 1989.
We invite200-word abstracts detailing the proposed essays by July 16, 2021. We will respond with our assessment by July 31, 2021. Completed essays (of approximately 7,000 words each) will be due by the end of March 2022.