Theory, Culture and Society 19 (5-6):107-124 (2002)

Jacob Van
United States Air Force Academy
This article deals with the birth of `the virus' as an object of technoscientific analysis. The aim is to discuss the process of objectification of pathogen virulence in virological and medical discourses. Through a short excursion into the history of modern virology, it will be argued that far from being a matter of fact, pathogen virulence had to be `produced', for example in petri-dishes, test-kits and hyper-real signification-practices. The now commonly accepted objective status of `the virus' has been an accomplishment of a complex ensemble of actors. Indeed, this illustrates why objectification rather than objectivity has become the main focus of science and technology studies. The objectification of `the' virus was by no means a smooth process. It involved more than five decades of highly speculative and fragmented research projects before it became actualized as a separate discipline under the heading of virology. The specific objectification of viruses took place through an inter-disciplinary de-differentiation of research questions, methodologies, techniques and technologies. The main argument of this article is that viruses only became intelligible after the establishment of a virology-assemblage. Its inauguration in the early 1950s was radical and sudden because only then could the various substrands of virological technoscience affect each other through deliberate enrolment, and engender a universal intelligibility.
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DOI 10.1177/026327602761899174
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