Biosecurity and the topologies of infected life: from borderlines to borderlands

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Abstract

Biosecurity, as a response to threats from zoonotic, food-borne and emerging infectious diseases, implies and is often understood in terms of a spatial segregation of forms of life, a struggle to separate healthy life from diseased bodies. While an ensuing will to closure in the name of biosecurity is evident at various sites, things are, in practice and in theory, more intricate than this model would suggest. There are transactions and transformations that defy easily segmented spaces. Using multi-species ethnographic work across a range of sites, from wildlife reserves to farms and food processing plants, we argue for a shift of focus in biosecurity away from defined borderlines towards that of borderlands. The latter involves the detachment of borders from geographic territory and highlights the continuous topological interplay and resulting tensions involved in making life live. We use this spatial imagination to call for a different kind of biopolitics and for a shift in what counts as a biosecurity emergency. As a means to re-frame the questions concerning biosecurity, we argue for a change of discourse and practice away from disease ‘breach points’ towards the ‘tipping points’ that can arise in the intense foldings that characterise pathological lives.

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