28 April seminar: Contagion: COVID-19, the Outbreak Narrative, and Why We Need to Change the Story

We’re bringing you a series of online seminars looking at different angles of the COVID-19 pandemic, co hosted with the Alfred Deakin Institute for Citizenship & Globalisation.


Seminar #1: Contagion: COVID-19, the Outbreak Narrative, and Why We Need to Change the Story

Watch a recording of the seminar here.

Tuesday 28 April 10:00am – 11:30am AEST

COVID-19 is the name of a pathogen—a disease-causing microbe—but if it is a “newly emerging infection,” it is also a newly emerging, though familiar, story: the latest version of “the outbreak narrative.” Accounts of newly surfacing diseases appeared in scientific publications and the mainstream media in the Global North with increasing frequency following the introduction of the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) in the mid-1980s. They put the vocabulary of disease outbreaks into circulation, and they introduced the concept of “emerging infections.”

The repetition of particular phrases, images and story lines produced a formula that quickly became conventional as it formed the plot of the popular novels and films in the mid-1990s. These stories have consequences. As they disseminate information, they affect survival rates and contagion routes. They promote or mitigate the stigmatising of individuals, groups, populations, spaces and locales (regional and global), behaviours and lifestyles, and they change economies. They also influence how both scientists and the lay public understand the nature and consequences of infection, how we imagine the threat and why we react so fearfully, and which problems merit our attention and resources.

About the speaker:
Priscilla Wald is R. Florence Brinkley Professor of English and Professor of Gender, Sexuality, and Feminist Studies at Duke University. She is the author of Contagious: Cultures, Carriers, and the Outbreak Narrative (Duke University 2008).