Anthropological studies of infrastructure define the concept as the bulwark of urban networks and systems that enable the flow of public goods and constitute modern subjectivities. At times, material infrastructures are unintentionally recruited into the exchange of public harms, such as pathogens, making apparent the multispecies quality of human-built networks. Transportation networks have facilitated the spread of bubonic plague around the world at the turn of the twentieth century as infected rats and rat fleas boarded ships and vehicles. Beyond their uses of human transportation routes, rats also produce subterranean systems that appear to contribute to the persistence and recrudescence of the plague in certain regions. After the discovery of the role of rodents and fleas in transmitting the plague in the late nineteenth century, the multispecies quality of transportation networks and dwellings became apparent to scientists. Gradually, so did the risks posed by rodent burrows. This chapter examines the multispecies, multi-layered infrastructure of Y. pestis in Madagascar, a country that has experienced recurrent outbreaks of human plague since the pathogen’s introduction in 1898. It traces the deepening scientific examination of the relationship between the plague and the underground as a site of disease emergence. The state today continues to enforce colonial-era rules concerning the burial of plague victims and the unproven risk of infection by corpses, but over the decades, the role of rat burrows has more explicitly figured into policy rationale. The chapter argues that the multispecies networks of the plague have constituted rural subjectivities. By linking grave sites to state surveillance, rat burrows interfere in relations between the living and the dead, and therefore stoke resentment against medical authority.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Social Sciences(all)