Conclusion: The Spatio-Temporal Logic of Vaccination
Vaccinations operated on a number of levels that each had their own spatio-temporal logic:
- the biological processes of the cowpox virus' life cycle, which had to play out within certain types of bodies and within limited spans of time;
- the interventions of medical professionals, who collaborated by forming domain-based status groups as well as more far-flung professional networks;
- other social and political structures, which conditioned the mobilization of human bodies and channeled it in certain directions;
- the physical geography, which determined the speed and extent to which human bodies and other vehicles could move, at a time when walking was the most common mode of transportation.
Vaccinators connected people to one another, sometimes permanently and sometimes for just a few days, until the vaccine's life cycle had run its course. They also relied on tangible material entities: the bodies of children, glass containers, written records, and the built environments of clinics. All of these both constituted spaces and existed in space. They could be static or mobile, and their movements—both their speed and direction—were influenced by geographic and social factors. By highlighting the coexistence of different logics of space and time, we can better understand how Tokugawa society was structured, how it operated, and how it responded to technological and other forms of change.
We also gain a framework for comparing Echizen's experience with vaccinations in other places, whether within Japan or elsewhere in the world. To be sure, the idea that there was one uniform cowpox virus spreading around the world in the nineteenth century has needed to be revised. Even in the early days of vaccination, there was some variation in the strains of virus used for vaccinations, and we cannot assume that the virus' life cycle was necessarily the same everywhere. There were also different local constellations of vaccination and variolation techniques as well as ways of harvesting the virus from both animals and humans. However, the characteristics of the virus still were similar enough to speak of a global technique (Bhattacharya and Brimnes, 2009). By highlighting the spatio-temporality of the virus and its variants, we can examine how it (and the human will to perpetuate it) built upon and transcended locally specific spaces and concepts of space—not just the physical geography and modes of transportation, but political territories, social networks, built environments, written texts, and ideas about marginality and inclusion.
This module has highlighted only some of the many paths taken by the smallpox vaccine, even within the confines of Echizen province. Sabae domain and the town of Fuchū, for example, had active communities of vaccinators who also treated subjects from other territories. By including these and other cases, we can explore many more of the human stories, conflicts, and unintended consequences that resulted when the smallpox vaccine entered the social world of nineteenth-century Japan.