Thursday, November 26, 2009

Mapping the Outbreak

Wald's book, Contagious maps the way in which the spread of disease can be used to map a community. This text made me question the way noncommunicable disease can similarly be used to imagine or map a community. One could quickly bring up statistics that show how much more prominent schizophrenia is in western (as opposed to eastern) society, or a plethora of diseases that one never sees in America or Europe.

Wald's focus on "contagions" as opposed to disorders allows her to focus on the materiality of disorders. In fact, it's this biological focus that enables her mapping. When the focus shifts from contagion to disease, we find more powerfully stratified cultural limits that don't actively illustrate these international flows which make up the majority of Wald's discussion. This breakdown of disorder and contagion, on the other hand, allows us to map something entirely different: the immateriality of these communities, and their culturally constructed differences.

The differences, unlike "thirdworldization" and "modernization" are more refined. They are differences that can't be quantified or explained. Unlike the "contagious" which can be defined--the microbes can be found--disorders don't have definable origins. While microbes can be mapped, disorders are sites where biopower takes control. The disordered is institutionalized. If there is a contagion, the institution works to contain it. Medicines work on the contagion itself, while institutions work on the individual. Why don't the disordered make neat maps? It seems to me--though this is only a tentative answer--that the disordered individual is always still an individual. One can count the number of names of people with any given disorder, but they will always still mark individuals. The site of the individual always seems to fight the totalizing and generalizing capacity of a map and the way in which it attempts to abstract these entities.

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