Viruses, Practices and Perception

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Sebastian Haumann

Published Mar 31, 2021


The current pandemic strikingly reveals that the spread of the Sars-CoV-2 virus is inextricably intertwined in human practices. It is transmitted through everyday routines and understood though practices of scientific research. While praxeology as a theoretical approach is often used in historical research to analyze social phenomena, it also provides a useful perspective on socio-environmental change, such as the spread of diseases. With a focus on human practices, this essay rejects notions subsumed under buzzwords like ‘New Materialism’ or ‘Post-Humanism’ which attribute ‘agency’ to entities such as viruses. Instead, it contends that while viruses do evolve beyond human control and have a significant impact on society, this impact is not only tied to human activities, but that humans are able to actively alter the course of the pandemic by reflecting on the nexus between practices and viruses. This article illustrates these mechanisms with examples from the current pandemic and the longer history of hygiene in the nineteenth century.

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