The Many Lives of Viruses – Perig Pitrou

The Many Lives of Viruses
Perig Pitrou

Texte en ligne et en accès libre sur : [Texte complet].

Ce commentaire fait partie d’une discussion concernant l’ouvrage de Carlo Carduff, The Pandemic Perhaps: Dramatic Events in a Public Culture of Danger (University of California Press, 2015). La liste des textes formant cette discussion est disponible ici : [Book forum- Carlo Caduff’s The Pandemic Perhaps]

In chapter 1, Carlo Caduff aptly explains how, since André Lwoff’s seminal 1957 paper[1], the ontological status of viruses has remained ambiguous. Indeed, “The fact that viruses can multiply rapidly and adapt systematically to changing circumstances suggests that they are living things. The fact, however, that they can multiply, mutate, and adapt only in the presence of living cells suggests that they are not autonomous organisms. Furthermore, viruses are also unable to perform essential metabolic functions” (57). As discussed by Thierry Bardini, who is working on “viral life,” the decision by biologists whether or not to put viruses in the category of living things was at the beginning of virology “une affaire de goût”–although, since then, the discovery of Mimivirus, Mamavirus and Spoutnik has supported the argument to place these beings in the latter category[2]. In any case, it seems that, instead of the quite sterile ontological question–“alive or not alive”–it is much more fruitful to adopt a pragmatic standpoint on this topic, and, as I suggest in recent papers, to study living beings within the “agentive configurations” where they appear, in order to better understand both the evolution of living beings and their relations with an environment[3]. Although the main topic of The Pandemic Perhaps is to develop a multi-scale study of flu pandemics, I should say that I consider this book as a great contribution for the anthropology of life and it is on this point I would like to comment. Caduff’s excellent investigation, both ethnographic and historical, offers a very convincing analysis of the material and conceptual configurations in which viruses are engaged, hence demonstrating the value of approaches which explore the agency of living beings and vital processes[4]. He offers insightful ideas that shed new light on fundamental aspects of life [Texte complet].

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