Of Medicine and Statecraft: Smallpox and Early Colonial Vaccination in French West Africa (Senegal-Guinea)

Public Deposited

The last two decades in nineteenth-century West Africa witnessed a two-fold movement, namely the territorial expansion of French colonial empire and the first attempts to extend biomedicine through mass vaccination to control smallpox epidemics. This study provides both a deep history and conceptual framework to analyze the relationship between the two phenomena in the long-standing French possession of Senegal as well as the recently established colony of French Guinea. Specifically, the dissertation examines the generative capacities of biopower (the power over life) in the fin-de-si├Ęcle period whereby new medical knowledges of smallpox melded with the initial experiments to vaccinate local African populations en masse. Colonial biopower steadlily became embedded in French West Africa through the medicalization of smallpox, particularly in terms of the statistical recording of epidemics over space and time, and the partial, yet effective creation of vaccination networks. These developments in turn helped to produce a new social constellation that redefined territory, population, and individuals and framed the broader conduct of political governance. Mass vaccination campaigns also changed the ways West African communities responded to smallpox epidemics as the vaccine gradually replaced, and in time ultimately eliminated, a precolonial form of indigenous smallpox prevention (variolation). By focusing conceptually on the early period of this little historically studied disease and its control in colonial Africa, the study maps out the historical foundations of the massive twentieth-century vaccination efforts that ultimately led to the smallpox's eradication. More generally, the dissertation responds to the challenge to write empirically rich and theoretically informed histories of Western modernity in colonial Africa and throughout European empire. It combines insights from two different thinkers on the manner in which micrological processes produce larger socio-political foundations: Michel Foucault for the arts of government and productive modes of biopower and Bruno Latour for the ways technoscientific practices assemble social relations through networks and chains. As such, the thesis contributes to the historical literature on the relationship between medicine and colonialism, the shaping of African subjectivity, the meanings and experiences of modernity, and the means in which Western knowledges move within local, non-Western settings and throughout global terrains.

Last modified
  • 08/31/2018
Date created
Resource type
Rights statement