The monad and the nomad: medical microbiology and the politics and possibilities of the mobile microbe

2014-06-26T10:50:37Z (GMT) by Fred Attenborough
This paper is about the ontological politics and possibilities of the mobile microbe. It seeks to foreground a link that exists between current understandings of the mobile microbe and the conditions of possibility structuring the production of such a microbe in the medical microbiological sciences. When the microbial world is brought into the field of medical perception, it is a monadic microbe, isolated and alone, that appears. But why is this? Because out there, in the microbial world, things travel alone? Working through a case study of the 2003 severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) outbreak, this paper suggests not. That SARS was caused by one viral agent, a coronavirus (CoV), is now microbiological fact. But the argument here is that this fact is an effect; that various medical microbiological practices and interventions, whilst establishing the visibility of this monadic human coronavirus, were serving, at the same time, to suppress any possibility of a very different, and differently mobile, human coronavirus becoming similarly visible. And that is where the politics comes in. For if politics, the realm of the political, can be taken to arise in situations where various possibilities exist but not all possibilities can be chosen, then it follows that there is a politics bound up with the practical production of the mobile microbe in the medical microbiological sciences.