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Report: The 5th Meeting of the Vienna Science Studies Laboratory

The 5th Meeting of the Vienna Science Studies Laboratory was held yesterday afternoon in the cool ambience of Das Café in Vienna. The paper that was selected for this reading group’s discussion was Anderson, W., 2004. Natural histories of infectious disease: Ecological vision in twentieth-century biomedical science. Osiris, 19, pp.39-61.

This paper is a historical account of disease ecology: During the twentieth century, disease ecology emerged in infectious diseases research, led by figures like Theobald Smith, F. Macfarlane Burnet, René Dubos, and Frank Fenner. They used Darwinian evolutionism to understand diseases integratively, breaking away from reductionist methods and prioritizing biologically informed epidemiology. Their focus on competition and mutualism in the environment contrasted with prevailing deterministic approaches. In postcolonial settler societies, disease ecology drew from fields like tropical medicine, veterinary pathology, and immunology. Initially a niche interest, disease ecology gained prominence from the 1980s for its insights into disease emergence, antibiotic resistance, bioterrorism, and the health impacts of climate change.

The meeting was attended by 11 participants from multiple disciplines and affiliations in and around Vienna. Co-organiser Laura Menatti (KLI) opened the meeting with a welcome note and a brief introduction to the paper. Hanna Lucia Worliczek (MPIWG, Berlin) led the discussion, and the rest of the group participated in the following discussion. The meeting concluded with co-organiser Sophie Veigl (Uni. of Vienna) announcing that in the next group meeting could have a movie screening.

The Vienna Science Studies Lab is an intra-institution initiative hosted by the Konrad Lorenz Institute (KLI), the UPSalon (University of Vienna), and the Epistemology of the In/human Project at Central European University (CEU).