’s The Pandemic Perhaps: Dramatic Events in a Public Culture of Danger
(University of California Press, 2015) is an ethnographic inquiry into pandemic anxieties in the mid-2000s when such an event was widely anticipated by experts. Examining how experts in the United States framed a catastrophe that has not happened yet, the book trains a lens on the many generative ways in which the absence of a disease made preparedness a permanent project. Drawing on fieldwork among scientists and public health professionals in New York City, the book investigates how experts, government actors and institutions co-produced pandemic prophecies that were made meaningful to communities on the ground through the framework of catastrophe. Centered on the question how to engage a disease such as influenza in anticipation of potential crisis, this monograph analyses the infelicities of failure and the limits of planning. The pandemic - past, present and future – is arguably always with us, even in its absence.
In this episode, we discuss the pandemic when it was a ‘perhaps’, unpack the blurring of reason and faith among expert interlocutors and draw out lessons on preparedness and its paradoxes for the present global coronavirus crisis.
is a Reader in the Department of Social Science, Health and Medicine at King’s College, London.
Faizah Zakaria is an assistant professor of history at Nanyang Technological University. Singapore. You can find her website here or on Twitter @laurelinarien