Date of Award

2018

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

Anthropology

First Advisor

Douglas R. Holmes

Abstract

The rapid emergence of profit-oriented, life altering technologies has raised a number of questions over how humans should intervene in our shared environments. Unfamiliar genetic techniques for the manipulation of biological life have stimulated both promise and despair over our ecological future. What these technologies can solve, what they may overlook, and how they disrupt current arrangements has been the focus of my dissertation research, which ethnographically engages in efforts to conduct experimental field trials of Oxitec's OX513A, a genetically engineered Aedes aegypti mosquito in Key West, Florida.

Promoted as a pest-turned-ally in vector control, a tool of public health, and producer of capital, the OX513A has been designed to address not only disease control, but also the urgent issue of disease emergence. Genetic technologies have come to be regarded by proponents as a preeminent means by which infectious disease can be mitigated, if not totally eradicated, offering a universal solution to challenges that are both persistent and global in their reach. Focusing on efforts to "scale-up" projects with transgenic life at their center, this dissertation investigates how the OX513A has been informed and altered by the local settings and conditions with which it intersects by examining local engagements with environments and the categorical understandings that drive them. In the case of genetically altered life turned technology, what often appears "ready-made," takes shape through formative encounters in such sites.

Experimental sites prove influential beyond simply producing data as settings where these technologies come to life. They serve as spaces for the development of best practices for shaping the social and political environments suitable for testing the fitness of these lively technologies in the first place. My work has traced how unfolding local circumstances in conjunction with global events (specifically, the reemergence of dengue in the United States and the Zika virus outbreak in 2016) have influenced the OX513A's path towards experimental release and commercialization in translating the OX513A into an instrument of public health, and establishing a potential global model for the formulation of public health policy concerning the integration of private-sector science into public health systems.

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