Invasive Species and Shifting Disease Ecologies: Perspectives from the Humanities and the Social Sciences

June 30 – July 1 2022

2nd Annual Conference of The Global War Against the Rat and the Epistemic Emergence of Zoonosis project; Online Conference, Department of Social Anthropology, University of St Andrews

Registration is free. To register please contact: by June 20 2022, 14:00 BST.

Since at least the late-nineteenth century, invasive species have become a key concern of ecosystem managers, farmers, medical scientists, and civilians alike. These allegedly destructive foreign animals, plants, and microbes have become targets of state surveillance, nationalist hatred, and ultimately mass eradication campaigns in the service of agriculture, public health, ecological purity, and the recreation of ‘pristine’ nature. Such campaigns have, at times, been shaped by xenophobic discourses, mirroring colonialist and modern anti-immigration agendas. At other times, failures to eradicate invasive species have exposed the limits of bio- and- necropolitics over the ‘natural world’. Yet what counts as ‘invasive’ has always been a matter of controversy. The term itself has been problematised as inappropriate in casting creatures often transported by humans as villainous militants. In spite of the growing corpus of works on invasive species in the humanities and the social sciences little attention has been paid to histories and ethnographies of the relation of these to infectious diseases. Bringing together scholars of the environmental and medical humanities in dialogue with the natural sciences, this conference aims to elucidate the medical, microbial, and health dimensions of species invasiveness. We seek to question how invasive species have shaped the emergence, persistence, and alteration of disease ecologies, as well as how they have impacted nutrition, food security, and wellbeing.  

Bringing together perspectives from the humanities and the social sciences in dialogue with the life sciences, this online conference seeks to break new ground in the hitherto understudied medical and health dimensions of species invasiveness.  In so doing, it aims to elucidate how species invasiveness has been linked to medical and health questions, the epistemological, political and ethnographic realities of making this connection, and to examine how medicalized notions of “invasive species” have shaped relationships between humans, animals, plants, microbes, land use, and the environment. Topics will include:

  • Intellectual histories of the linkage between species invasiveness and questions of health, including but not limited to epidemiology.
  • Histories and ethnographies of the medical/health problems arising from efforts to control invasive species.
  • Economic histories of the medical/health framing of species invasiveness.
  • One Health and Planetary Health approaches to species invasiveness.
  • Indigenous and vernacular conceptions of species invasiveness as a medical/health problem, or opposing the medical framing of specific “invasive species”.
  • Forms of governance fostered by the medicalization of species invasiveness.
  • How various concepts of species invasiveness as a medical/health problem have shaped relationships between humans and non-humans.
  • How invasive species have shaped ideas of ecological and land health.
  • Problematisations of, and alternatives to the concept of ‘invasiveness’ as it pertains to bodily and ecological health.
  • Conflict and violence between invasive predators, livestock, and humans.
  • Agricultural and environmental histories and ethnographies of acclimatization, invasiveness, biological pest-control, and food security.
  • Histories and ethnographies of ‘indigenous invaders’: local wildlife stigmatised as disease carriers or reservoirs.
  • How the medicalised management of invasive species has shaped ecologies, national parks, and urban environments.
  • Relationships between invasive species, health, discrimination, and racism.


Christos Lynteris (University of St Andrews)

Jules Skotnes-Brown (University of St Andrews)

Reframing Disease Reservoirs: Histories & Ethnographies of Pathogens & Pestilence

26-28 May 2021