Luísa Reis Castro

Luísa Reis Castro

Luísa Reis Castro is a PhD candidate at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in the program of History, Anthropology, and Science, Technology, and Society (HASTS), USA. Her dissertation project investigates the relations between the environment and health by analyzing the development and implementation of new strategies to address mosquito-borne diseases in Brazil. Based on fieldwork with scientists, technicians, and public health workers in Brazil, her work examines new strategies proposing to deploy the mosquito itself in efforts to control the viruses this insect can transmit. She investigates how proponents of these projects attempt not only to transform the mosquito into an instrument to control diseases, but also to transform Brazil into a country that can export health solutions. Combining theoretical and methodological tools from anthropology, science and technology studies (STS), and the environmental humanities, Luísa examines these projects to trace the confluence of geopolitical positioning, politics of knowledge production, and the crafting of different scales of action in the service of developing disease responses.

Luísa received her BA in the Social Sciences at the Universidade Federal de Minas Gerais, Brazil (2010). She obtained both her cum laude MSc in Cultures of Arts, Science and Technology (2012) and her cum laude MA in Studies on Society, Science and Technology (2011) at Maastricht University, the Netherlands. She has worked at the Spiral Institute at the Université de Liège, Belgium (2010-2012), and was a visiting student at the Instituto de Pesquisa em Riscos e Sustentabilidade, Brazil (2013), at the Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, Germany (2013), at the Laboratoire d’Anthropologie Sociale, France (2015), at the Casa Oswaldo Cruz-Fiocruz, Brazil (2018), and the Instituto Aggeu Magalhães-Fiocruz, Brazil (2018). From 2012 to 2014 she was a Junior Researcher in the LOST group, and maintains her participation in the international LOST Network.

Current position
PhD Researcher
University affiliation
Massachusetts Institute for Technology (MIT)

Research

The research project, “Vectors of Health” (working title), investigates technologies for controlling mosquito-borne diseases as a window into science and public health policies in Brazil. Amid economic recession and a tumultuous political process, Brazil has also been the epicenter of international concern for the emergence of mosquito-borne diseases.  Besides being the epicenter of the 2015-2016 Zika virus epidemic (associated with microcephaly and other health issues among fetuses and newborns), Brazil has in the last decades had recurrent outbreaks of dengue and, more recently, chikungunya. Brazil has declared a “war against the Aedes aegypti mosquito”, the vector transmitting these three diseases, with the motto “a mosquito is not stronger than an entire country”. There are no specific treatments for these diseases, all of which have serious health consequences and can be potentially fatal. Historically, health policies to address mosquito-borne diseases have focused primarily on eliminating the mosquito, through human behavioral reforms or the use of toxic chemicals to destroy breeding spots.

Drawing on more than eighteen months of ethnographic fieldwork, as well as interviews and archival research, Luísa investigated three new technoscientific strategies in Brazil that instead harness the A. aegypti itself in efforts to control the viruses this insect transmits: (1) in Rio de Janeiro, public health researchers release A. aegypti infected with a bacterium called Wolbachia that curtails the mosquito population’s capacity to transmit pathogens; (2) in Recife, researchers from a public university irradiate A. aegypti to render them sterile, dispatching these in the heavily touristed island of Fernando de Noronha; (3) in Foz do Iguaçu, public health officials trap and assay A. aegypti to employ them as indicators of impending outbreaks. Luísa argues that examining these three projects reveals not only different techniques for deploying mosquitoes but also illustrates the distinct kinds of articulations in the making between science and health, politics and anthropogenic effects, and Brazil and the rest of the world. This dissertation research has been supported by the Wenner-Gren Foundation, Social Science Research Council (SSRC), National Science Foundation (NSF), MIT Center for International Studies, MIT-Brazil Program, and MIT Martin Fellowship for Sustainability.

Publications

  • Reis-Castro, Luísa (2019) "Histórias of Zika / Histórias de Zika" in Somatospherehttp://somatosphere.net/2019/historias-of-zika.html/
  • Lopes, Gabriel, Luísa Reis-Castro (2018) "A Vector in the (Re)Making: A History of Aedes aegypti as Mosquitoes that Transmit Diseases in Brazil." in Framing Animals as Epidemic Villains: Histories of of Non-Human Disease Vectors, 147-175 , edited by Christos Lynteris. Cham: Palgrave → https://www.palgrave.com/gp/book/9783030267940#aboutAuthors
  • Reis-Castro, Luísa (2017) "The Underworlds Project and the “Collective Microbiome”: Mining Biovalue from Sewage." in Bioeconomies Life, Technology, and Capital in the 21st Century, 105-128 , edited by Vincenzo Pavone and Joanna Goven. Cham: Palgrave
  • Boëte, Christophe, Uli Beisel, Luísa Reis Castro, Nicolas Césard, and R Guy Reeves (2015) "Engaging scientists: an online survey exploring the experience of innovative biotechnological apporaches to controlling vector-borne diseases." in Parasites & Vectors 8 (1):414