From Fractured Publics to Shared Responses: Rethinking Environmental Responsibility through Human-Mosquito Entanglements

Authors: Nida Rehman*, University of Cambridge
Topics: Human-Environment Geography, Urban Geography, Medical and Health Geography
Keywords: responsibility, public health, South Asia, infrastructure, biopolitics, entanglement
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/6/2019
Start / End Time: 3:05 PM / 4:45 PM
Room: Chairman's Boardroom, Omni, East
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Ongoing and normalized infrastructural shortfall in the postcolonial city places a compensatory burden on urban inhabitants. Generators, solar panels, water tanks, filters, or even buckets, help to fill gaps and patch fractures — reconfiguring responsibility to stave off scarcity (or helping to maintain abundance). Meanwhile disease-carrying mosquitoes take advantage of these patches, such as when a storage bucket or a water tank becomes a breeding ground. Just as the confrontation of infrastructural failure recasts citizens as private caretakers, rather than public subjects, the surveillance gaze of the public health state further allocates responsibility for urban care and maintenance through the biopolitics of vector control. These procedures of vector control seek to disentangle interspecies relationships to prevent the transmission of mosquito-borne diseases. However, as medical anthropologists have shown, these technologies can also restructure ecological, labour, gender, and social relationships, and signal new bonds. In this paper, I draw from fieldwork experiences with dengue control workers in Lahore, Pakistan, to consider how their embodied practices, movements, and labours may help confront the city’s splintered geographies, and allocations of environmental responsibility. Their work entails careful responsiveness, not only to the habits and habitats of mosquitoes, but also, more broadly, to the city’s human and more-than-human ecologies. Building on literature on geographies of responsibility and care, as well as multispecies ethnography, I explore how these contingent and assembled practices might inform alternate paths to imagining and inhabiting the city, and help move beyond sites of individual responsibility towards a shared praxis of urban “response-ability”.

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