Skip to main content
Open Access Publications from the University of California

UC San Diego

UC San Diego Electronic Theses and Dissertations bannerUC San Diego

Cultures of quarantine : race, U.S. empire, and the biomedical discourse of national security, 1893-1960


This dissertation argues that twentieth century United States imperialism relied on a liberal art of government that viewed the management of life itself--across species and borders--as necessary for managing risk in a globalizing world. Analyzing literary and visual representations of quarantine projects undertaken by U.S. authorities outside of the continental U.S. between 1893 and 1960, the dissertation traces the formation of a biosecurity apparatus that worked to differentiate and incorporate diverse types of patients, research subjects, disease vectors, ecosystems, and territories into the sphere of U.S. state regulation. In the process, the biosecurity apparatus constituted disease, hygiene, and sexuality as objects of knowledge and indicators of racial difference that mapped the risks associated with U.S. territorial expansion, market globalization, world wars, and the Cold War. The study analyzes three biosecurity interventions: first, the segregation of Hansen's disease patients following Hawaiian annexation, which demonstrated both the globalization of public health efforts and the association of Asia-Pacific racial groups with disease, disability, and abnormal intimacy; second, the U.S. military quarantine of suspected sex workers in Panamá during World War II, where anxiety over miscegenation and other perceived threats to the nuclear family led to the criminalization of women's public culture; and third, the establishment of quarantine and breeding operations for research monkeys in Puerto Rico and Africa during the antibiotic revolution, which reflected the displacement of both racial discourse and the material practices of quarantine onto nonhuman bodies during the rise of scientific medicine. As biosecurity expanded state authority and racial power, it also opened new subaltern public spheres, health identities, forms of citizenship, nationalisms, and even resistances by nonhuman life forms. The dissertation follows transnational, multiethnic, and multispecies itineraries of "counter-conduct" that oppose biosecurity interventions by stressing the priorities of the nation, the population, civil society, or even biological life itself over the priorities of the imperial state. These discussions offer a prehistory of contemporary biopolitical configurations, in which knowledge of global pandemics, bioterrorism, and new forms of detention have become central to managing risks and envisioning liberation in a supposedly "global" society

Main Content
For improved accessibility of PDF content, download the file to your device.
Current View