What do Bats think of the Virus? Sentinels and Pandemics

The Italian Society for Applied Anthropology (SIAA) in cooperation with the Department of Political and Social Sciences at the University of Catania promotes an online speakers’ corner to open a space for listening, speaking up and sharing reflections in times of crisis and isolation.

In its classical version, the speakers’ corner is an area of open-air discussion around topics of public interest.  Our way of revisiting this tradition includes two dimensions: on the one hand, we focus on fundamental rights, the right to life, health, work, education, information; on the other hand, we promote debates which pay attention to different and even opposite points of view, to the circulation of ideas and the expression of “reasoned” opinions.

Our meetings will be available in streaming (both live and catch-up), and involve anthropologists from different countries that wish to make their researches beneficial for society at large, contributing to a better understanding of the contradictory pressures to which the current pandemic exposes all of us.

Sentinel species and pandemic, April 28 / 2020

Our first speakers’ corner will host a french anthropologist, Frédéric Keck, presenting his research on sentinels species and pandemics. Pandemic is one of those catastrophic events that trigger global mobilization. The rise of a new coronavirus in China in December 2019 confirmed the cyclical nature of the epidemics, after “the Spanish” (1918), the “Asian” (1957) and the “Hong Kong” flu (1968), as well as the Ebola Hemorrhagic Fever (1976), the HIV (1981) and the SARS (2003). These events force the authorities to deal with health, moral, geopolitical and economic consequences of pandemic crises, in a world where processes of urbanization, industrial agriculture, deforestation and climate change provoke dramatic transformations. The sentinel species, on the first line of the “wars against viruses”, reveal the emergence of infectious diseases through early warning signs.

Starting from a research conducted in Hong Kong, Taiwan and Singapore – three territories located on the borders of China and closely connected to the rest of the world – Frédéric Keck shows that “virus hunters” and public health officials collaborate with veterinaries and bird watchers to track mutations of the virus among wild birds, domestic poultry and humans. By using social anthropology methods, Keck describes how, in the so-called Anthropocene, the preparation techniques for pandemics have transformed inter-species relationships.


Frederic Keck, bionote 

Research director at CNRS in France. He directs a comparative study on the social factors that influence the transmission of diseases from animals to humans. He is the author of “Avian Reservoirs: Virus Hunters and Birdwatchers in Chinese Sentinel Post” (Duke University Press 2020) and “Les Sentinelles des pandémies. Chasseurs de virus et observateurs d’oiseaux aux frontières de la Chine”(Zones Sensibles 2020).


Coordination team 

Direction: Mara Benadusi, President of the Italian Society for Applied Anthropology
Organizational and scientific committee : Lorenzo D’Orsi, Irene Falconieri, Luca Rimoldi.


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Meeting ID: 946 1354 1460
Password: 2ATqde


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