The Changing Objects of Government: Malaria Eradication, Political Power and the Jewish National Home

Thursday, 19 July 2018
Distributed Paper
Omri TUBI, Northwestern University, USA
Studies of states usually emphasize a shift in the interest of governments from controlling territories to controlling the populations under them. While some have criticized this linear narrative, or remained agnostic regarding the primacy of one object of government over the other, literature still lacks a more complex picture of the wielding of political power by government. We know less on when and how populations or objects become governmentalized, which actors value different objects over others and what are the implications on political institutions’ legibility of populations, territories and so on.

Drawing on the case of malaria eradication in British ruled mandatory Palestine, I show how the attention of doctors shifted from population to prioritizing governing nature and territory following a change in the scientific method used to eradicate the disease. However, this general shift did not mean uniformity across agencies or actors involved in malaria eradication: some bodies focused on different objects and differences can be seen also between individuals. Thus, I argue, the use of political power is more complex than usually thought as multiple objects can simultaneously be prime concerns of government. This situation means that some of the populations suffering from malaria had “vanished” as they became illegible to political institutions.

Empirically, I will focus on the work of the Malaria Research Unit (MRU), a Zionist research unit working from within the health department of the British colonial state formed in Palestine, as well as on the antimalarial work of the Department of Health itself. I will also examine the work of one of the unit’s antimalarial inspectors following the unit’s disbandment in 1931.