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Viral Economies

Bird Flu Experiments in Vietnam

Over the last decade, infectious disease outbreaks have heightened fears of a catastrophic pandemic passing from animals to humans. From Ebola and bird flu to swine flu and MERS, zoonotic viruses are killing animals and wreaking havoc on the people living near them. Given this clear correlation between animals and viral infection, why are animals largely invisible in social science accounts of pandemics, and why do they remain marginal in critiques of global public health?

In Viral Economies, Natalie Porter draws from long-term research on bird flu in Vietnam to chart the pathways of scientists, NGO workers, state veterinarians, and poultry farmers as they define and address pandemic risks. Porter argues that as global health programs expand their purview to include life and livestock, they weigh the interests of public health against those of commercial agriculture, rural tradition, and scientific innovation. Porter challenges human-centered analyses of pandemics and shows how dynamic and often dangerous human-animal relations take on global significance as poultry and their pathogens travel through global livestock economies and transnational health networks. Viral Economies urges readers to think critically about the ideas, relationships, and practices that produce our everyday commodities, and that shape how we determine the value of life—both human and nonhuman.

Author Information

Natalie Porter is assistant professor of anthropology at the University of Notre Dame. She is the coeditor of Living with Animals: Bonds across Species.


“Written at the intersection of medical anthropology, multispecies ethnography, global health, political economy, and biopolitics, Viral Economies is a luminous and groundbreaking book that explores the complex outcomes of efforts to contain the spread of avian influenza in Vietnam. By analyzing bird flu interventions as experimental systems of knowledge, work, value, and care, Porter providesa nuanced account of how the intensifying commoditization of poultry livestock unsettles already precarious relationships between global biosecurity, transnational and translocal trade, state-led modernization policies, and rural livelihoods.”
— Ann Marie Leshkowich, College of the Holy Cross

Viral Economies navigates the rapidly morphing terrain of global health policy, interventions, and surveillance, revealing the entwined livelihoods of humans and nonhumans in this highly animated and unstable landscape. Porter pushes ethnography beyond its usual strictures to illuminate startling, emergent disease ecologies, which are as much the products of marketing as mutations. This book is a riveting accomplishment.”
— John Hartigan, University of Texas, Austin

Audience: Professional and scholarly;