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Shadowlands and dark corners: An anthropology of light and zoonosis

Key Findings

Our task within LAROCS was to map the social morphology of human-rat relations through the lens of the house, including its construction, aesthetics, and functional distribution, and the arrangements of furnishings, objects, and clothes. An apprehension of the vicissitudes of light and darkness demonstrated, first, the profound temporal structure of these domestic landscapes, specifically how the convivial qualities of a room changed depending on the time of day. Second, the transformative effect of nighttime and shadows on how and where rodents and humans relate revealed highly attuned practices of accommodation and avoidance.

A richer description of the affective dimensions of encounters between humans and nonhumans is a central advantage of an anthropology of zoonosis. These accounts can provide key insights into the risks of infection and the viability of preventative measures.


The aim should be to shed new light on how luminosity and darkness shape the contexts of viral amplification and to take seriously the conceptual reification of light as enlightenment within the fields of global health research, policy, and intervention. Ultimately, examining the rhetorical and material agencies of light and darkness symmetrically may help refine some of the maladroit framings of zoonotic risk, infection, and contagion.

Geography: West Africa
Reference: Kelly, A. & Marí Sáez, A., Shadowlands and dark corners: An anthropology of light and zoonosis. Medical Anthropology Theory.21-49