Jia Hui Lee
Grant TypeDissertation Fieldwork Grant
Institutional AffiliationMassachusetts Inst. of Technology
Grant numberGr. 9465
Approve DateApril 25, 2017
Project TitleLee, Jia Hui, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, MA - To aid research on 'Smelling Danger: Training Rats and Modeling Environments for Landmine Detection in Tanzania and Cambodia,' supervised by Dr. Stefan Helmreich
Preliminary abstract: This dissertation will explore multispecies practices in Tanzania, where Apopo, a Belgian non-governmental organization, trains African giant pouched rats to smell explosive remnants of war — such as landmines — and deploys the trained rats in Angola and Cambodia. Based primarily in Morogoro, Tanzania, and in Siem Reap province, Cambodia, the research ethnographically examines the social practices of multispecies relations and the infrastructures of training between rats and humans that allow them both to detect landmines together. I engage with conversations in multispecies ethnography and the anthropology of the senses to examine human-rat encounters amid a proliferation of projects that draw on animals as sensory prostheses for detecting danger or monitoring the environment. How are rats, along with their verminous histories among Tanzanian and Cambodian farmers, transformed into compelling figures of emergent technoscientific, development and humanitarian projects in the global South? I also aim to investigate how environments are assembled to imbue rat behavior with meanings when interpreted in concert with specific training and apparatus. How are laboratories, mine fields, and rat kennels carefully assembled environments within which rodent olfaction and their attendant rat behaviors are shaped and socially interpreted by human trainers as meaningful signals of danger? More broadly, my research considers how animal sensing not only extends the human sensorium but also reconfigures developmental, humanitarian work in the global South, where human-animal relations belong to (post)colonial legacies of surveillance and regulation, such as those enacted through environmental conservation and tropical disease management.