Dr Aro Velmet

  • Technology and politics
  • History of bacteriology
  • Data collection and modeling

My book, “Pasteur's Empire” offers the frst transnational history of bacteriology as a form of politics in the French empire. From the 1890s, microbiologists at the Pasteur Institute – Pastorians – constructed laboratories in French Indochina, West Africa, and North Africa, while French administrators deployed bacteriological expertise to justify broad reforms ranging from monopolizing rice wine production in Indochina to introducing quarantine measures in West Africa. Using archival materials from Vietnam, Senegal, France, the United States and Switzerland, I show that the Pastorian focus on the microbe-human interface, abstracted from all material and social considerations, rendered public health, agricultural, and industrial reforms portable across colonies, but at the cost of obscuring the social and cultural effects of implementing biotechnological reforms. By looking at examples ranging from opium and alcohol manufacturing in Indochina, to tuberculosis vaccination in West Africa, I show how Pastorian technologies performed politics that could be expoited by French, Vietnamese and African actors alike.

I also have ongoing research projects on the history of intoxicants, where I am collaborating with Dr. Susannah Wilson (University of Warwick), and on the history of sovereignty, gender, and nationalism in Eastern Europe. I am in the early stages of preparing a book-length project on the history of personal data collection and digital governance in Eastern Europe, from the 1960s to the present. 

I maintain an ongoing profile in cultural journalism, in both English and Estonian. I edit the Estonian cultural monthly Vikerkaar (www.vikerkaar.ee), which is a contributor to Eurozine (www.eurozine.com), the network of European cultural journals. I contribute occasionally to other venues, such as the Los Angeles Review of Book. Some recent publications include:


Anarchism, work and bureaucracy: An interview with David Graeber (9 May, 2017) - http://www.eurozine.com/anarchism-work-and-bureaucracy/


Universalist politics and its crises: A conversation with Camille Robcis (24 March, 2016) - http://www.eurozine.com/universalist-politics-and-its-crises/


Feminus Ex Machina (co-written with Marysia Jonsson) (8 May, 2015) https://www.lareviewofbooks.org/article/feminus-ex-machina/

List of site pages