Scientists have identified southern China as a likely epicentre for viral pandemics, a place where new viruses emerge out of intensively farmed landscapes and human-animal interactions. In Virulent Zones, Lyle Fearnley documents the global plans to stop the next influenza pandemic at its source, accompanying virologists and veterinarians as they track lethal viruses to China's largest freshwater lake, Poyang Lake. Revealing how scientific research and expert agency operate outside the laboratory, he shows that the search for origins is less a linear process of discovery than a constant displacement toward new questions about cause and context. As scientists strive to understand the environments from which the influenza virus emerges, the unexpected scale of duck farming systems and unusual practices such as breeding wild geese unsettle research objects, push scientific inquiry in new directions, and throw expert authority into question. Drawing on fieldwork with global health scientists, state-employed veterinarians, and poultry farmers in Beijing and at Poyang Lake, Fearnley situates the production of ecological facts about disease emergence inside the shifting cultural landscapes of agrarian change and the geopolitics of global health.
Part I. Ecology
1. The Origins of Pandemics 27
2. Pathogenic Reservoirs 48
Part II. Landscape
3. Livestock Revolutions 65
4. Wild-Goose Chase 97
Part III. Territory
5. Affinity and Access 125
6. Office Vets and Duck Doctors 156
Conclusion. Vanishing Points 191
Lyle Fearnley is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences at the Singapore University of Technology and Design.
"Readers will come away with a newly visceral understanding of the phrase One Health, as they journey with scientists and epidemiologists through the bodies and ecologies of animal viruses in China. This is a book that rearranges one's sense of scale and time, with a slow and massive build to the sharpness of crisis and the paradoxical enormous scale of the microscopic at play in every scene."
– Hannah Landecker, Professor of Sociology, University of California, Los Angeles
"Virulent Zones tells an intricate story about ways the sciences interlace with geopolitics, with profound impacts on public health at many scales. Lyle Fearnley also provides new perspective on how the sciences advance, both geographically and conceptually, through displacement rather than discovery. This important book will be of critical interest to anthropologists and historians of science, scientists, and those working to build transnational scientific and governance capacity."
– Kim Fortun, author of Advocacy after Bhopal: Environmentalism, Disaster, New Global Orders
"Lyle Fearnley's Virulent Zones offers a gripping anthropological account of the search for the origins of influenza pandemics in China [...] . Virulent Zones is an outstanding scholarly work as it unmasks the mechanism of virus hunting and disease control in China at a time of marketization and globalization. It allows for an alternative understanding of the interplay of science and everyday life. It is highly recommended reading not only for anthropologists but also for anyone interested in public health in contemporary China."
– Qiliang He, East Asian Science, Technology and Society
"[A] compelling argument for the move away from older microevolutionary theories of pathogenesis, based on competition of hosts and parasites, toward a more systemic and rigorous reckoning – a dynamic configuration – of how environments and animal populations (human and nonhuman) connect up to promote viral innovation [...] We can read [it] with profit to learn more about our current predicament, to see how historical perceptions and responses are repeated or modified as we come to terms with the pandemic that confronts us today."
– Warwick Anderson, Public Books