Competing biosecurity and risk rationalities in the Chittagong poultry commodity chain, Bangladesh

20 Aug 2018
Høg E, Fournié G, Hoque A, Mahmud R, Pfeiffer DU, Barnett T

This paper anthropologically explores how key actors in the Chittagong live bird trading network perceive biosecurity and risk in relation to avian influenza between production sites, market maker scenes and outlets. They pay attention to the past and the present, rather than the future, downplaying the need for strict risk management, as outbreaks have not been reported frequently for a number of years. This is analysed as ‘temporalities of risk perception regarding biosecurity’, through Black Swan theory, the idea that unexpected events with major effects are often inappropriately rationalized (Taleb in The Black Swan. The impact of the highly improbable, Random House, New York, 2007). This incorporates a sociocultural perspective on risk, emphasizing the contexts in which risk is understood, lived, embodied and experienced. Their risk calculation is explained in terms of social consent, practical intelligibility and convergence of constraints and motivation. The pragmatic and practical orientation towards risk stands in contrast to how risk is calculated in the avian influenza preparedness paradigm. It is argued that disease risk on the ground has become a normalized part of everyday business, as implied in Black Swan theory. Risk which is calculated retrospectively is unlikely to encourage investment in biosecurity and, thereby, points to the danger of unpredictable outlier events.