It’s been really exciting and interesting to discover the scholarship examining the emerging field of “biosecurity interventions”. My PhD has given me the time and space to dive in and explore some new material, such as by anthropologist Andrew Lakoff. Lakoff has been examining what he terms ‘anticipatory interventions’ in biological threats and the use of scenario-based exercises.
For example, Lakoff argues scenario-based exercises have been central to biological threats (e.g. of emerging infectious diseases, bioweapons) being conceptualised as a problems of national security. The 2001 “Dark Winter” bioterrorism exercise is the most famous (see this website for more detail).
This looks to be opening up very interesting areas and questions for more research. Both domains deal with the need to go beyond preparing for known threats, and entail the use of new ‘knowledge practices’ (e.g. for understanding and intervening in contemporary threats).
RELEVANT ISSUES THAT ARE RAISED:
- Need for new models to enable responsible action under conditions of urgency and uncertainty – where established tools of quantitative risk assessment are not suitable
- Strategies for convince policy-makers of the need to address a problem when established methods of statistical/probability calculations are inappropriate
- The related issue of unprecedented future events: the need to imaginatively enact such events in order to enable more preparedness (see Lakoff, 2008)
- The tendency towards, and limitations of, ’emergency’-oriented responses. This is termed the ’emergency modality’ of responses. Like the field of global health, many organisations in the field of global sustainability and climate change are drawn to such an emergency modality. (E.g. see my 2007 article in The Age which discussed efforts to declare a global sustainability emergency).
As discussed by some futures scholars (e.g. Angela Wilkinson) the focus of new tools is constructing and engaging with plausible scenarios, and not accurately modelling probability.
In a 2012 paper in the Journal of Futures Studies (‘Cracks in the System’) I similarly looked at a shift from modernist planning and policy-making to an ‘anticipatory interventionist’ paradigm. A new paper of mine on climate change discussing similar issues will appear in the March 2013 edition.