The Mutual Conditioning of Humans and Pathogens: Implications for Integrative Geographical Scholarship

Christopher A. Scott, Paul F. Robbins, Andrew C. Comrie

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

14 Scopus citations


We highlight an emerging mode of human-environment enquiry that is executed by cross-disciplinary teams, spurs innovation of hybrid methods, and leads to nonintuitive findings relevant beyond disciplinary framings or specific cases. The extension of this approach in health geography is particularly instructive. By focusing on material objects like soils, insects, or sewage, researchers from diverse epistemologies are compelled to translate conceptual models of disease causation, risk, and vulnerability. Humans and pathogens mutually condition one another, a result of continuously changing exposures (settlement and development patterns that modify pathogen and vector ecology) and institutional processes (legal, economic, and organizational contexts in which environments are modified and agents respond to risk). The dynamic interactions of pathogen ecologies and human institutions produce a type of coevolution, as evidenced by three cases we consider: bacteriological and helminth infections from urban wastewater irrigation, West Nile virus and its mosquito vector in the built environment, and Valley Fever and fungal distribution under changing climate and land disturbance. Place-based, contextual exposure pathways are shown to provide only a partial explanation of disease transmission and must be complemented by insights into individual and organizational agents' motivations, logics, and responses. The object in its context holds the key to understanding the intersection between physical and environmental, and human and governance geographies. Interactively identifying and pursuing theoretical and applied challenges in this manner allows researchers to move beyond entrenched subdisciplinary understandings to frame new supradisciplinary questions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)977-985
Number of pages9
JournalAnnals of the Association of American Geographers
Issue number5
StatePublished - Sep 2012


  • Valley Fever
  • human-pathogen interaction
  • institutions
  • mosquitoes
  • wastewater

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Earth-Surface Processes


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