Displacing the Tropics: Chagas Disease and the Politics of Landscape


In the current global context, heightened awareness of the nonhuman origins of epidemics has generated significant interest at the intersection of biomedical, political, environmental, and epidemiological control systems. The emergence of diseases transmitted from animals to humans (zoonoses) and through insects (vector-borne) in countries in the so-called Global North evokes anxieties about unchecked boundaries and unwelcome intimacies. My research focuses on Chagas disease, a vector-borne parasitical illness traditionally regarded as endemic to Latin America, and its occurrence in the United States. Chagas has garnered attention in the US as an imported, foreign illness found among the Latin American migrant population. Yet, a growing number of locally acquired cases in humans and dogs has challenged the foreignness of Chagas disease in the US. Since Chagas involves a whole ecology (triatomine insects, nonhuman animal hosts and reservoirs, humans, and biological and physical elements of the environment), this research explores the concept of landscape as the dynamic product of sociobiological interactions. I thus look at how scientists, policymakers, public health officials, the media, and people affected by Chagas disease deal with issues of endemicity, foreignness, domesticity, topicality, and nativism vis-à-vis the occurrence of Chagas disease in the US in terms of experiences and conceptions of a national landscape. Rooted in perceptions of climatic difference and determinism, the political discourse of tropicality provides an entryway for examining the foreignness of Chagas disease in the US. I hypothesize that topicality plays a pivotal role in how Chagas disease intersects with the US nation-building project and connects it to narratives of empire and exceptionalism. Tropicality and landscapes are thus concepts that need to be taken into account in an inquiry about the projected presence of Chagas in the US.

Bernardo Moreno Peniche
Publication date: 
November 1, 2023
Publication type: 
Student Research