January 30, 2020, by Brigitte Nerlich
Warnings, war metaphors and infectious diseases: A little lit review
We are living through another global outbreak of an infectious disease: this time it’s a new version of the coronavirus. This outbreak of disease is, as usual, accompanied by an outbreak of metaphors….As Robert Dingwall has pointed out in a great Wired article: “As countless media outlets have characterized it, governments around the world have declared ‘war’ on the coronavirus.” (It’s worth a read)
This brings back memories of other outbreaks, both in animals and in humans. I first started to study the social, cultural and linguistic impact of such diseases during the 2001 outbreak of foot and mouth disease in the UK. This was also the occasion for me to observe how war metaphors were used to demonstrate control over something that evades total control.
I continued to explore the use of war metaphors in other outbreaks, such as SARS and avian flu. I especially examined the way that warnings were issued and how warnings worked politically to create certain expectations during a crisis and how the media dealt with such warnings, for example during the swine flu epidemic.
I also looked at war metaphors, gender and social inequality during the Zika outbreak.
War and battle metaphors (and what some call biomilitarism) are, of course, also important in reporting on long-standing issues like HIV, AMR (and the war against war metaphors) and in more novel speculations about nanomedicine…..
All of this work was done in collaboration with wonderful colleagues and friends!!!
If anybody is interested in delving into these communication and social science issues related to health and illness, have a look…..
Foot and mouth disease
Nerlich, B. (2004). War on foot and mouth disease in the UK, 2001: Towards a cultural understanding of agriculture. Agriculture and Human Values, 21(1), 15-25.
Nerlich, B., Hamilton, C. A., & Rowe, V. (2002). Conceptualising foot and mouth disease: The socio-cultural role of metaphors, frames and narratives. Metaphorik. de, 2(2002), 90-108.
Döring, M., & Nerlich, B. (eds.) (2009). The Social and Cultural Impact of Foot-and-Mouth Disease in the UK in 2001. Manchester: Manchester University Press.
Wallis, P., & Nerlich, B. (2005). Disease metaphors in new epidemics: The UK media framing of the 2003 SARS epidemic. Social Science & Medicine, 60(11), 2629-2639.
Larson, B. M., Nerlich, B., & Wallis, P. (2005). Metaphors and biorisks: The war on infectious diseases and invasive species. Science Communication, 26(3), 243-268.
Nerlich, B., & James, R. (2009). “The post-antibiotic apocalypse” and the “war on superbugs”: catastrophe discourse in microbiology, its rhetorical form and political function. Public Understanding of Science, 18(5), 574-590.
Nerlich, B., & Koteyko, N. (2009). MRSA—Portrait of a superbug: A media drama in three acts. In Metaphor and Discourse (pp. 153-169), edited by Andreas Musolff. London: Palgrave Macmillan.
Brown, B., Nerlich, B., Crawford, P., Koteyko, N., & Carter, R. (2009). Hygiene and biosecurity: The language and politics of risk in an era of emerging infectious diseases. Sociology Compass, 3(5), 811-823.
And this blog post on alarm and awareness
Nerlich, B., & Halliday, C. (2007). Avian flu: The creation of expectations in the interplay between science and the media. Sociology of Health & Illness, 29(1), 46-65.
Nerlich, B., & Koteyko, N. (2012). Crying wolf? Biosecurity and metacommunication in the context of the 2009 swine flu pandemic. Health & Place, 18(4), 710-717.
Ribeiro, B., Hartley, S., Nerlich, B., & Jaspal, R. (2018). Media coverage of the Zika crisis in Brazil: The construction of a ‘war’ frame that masked social and gender inequalities. Social Science & Medicine, 200, 137-144.
And a blog post related to this which was published on the PLOS Synbio community blog.
Jaspal, R., & Nerlich, B. (2017). Polarised press reporting about HIV prevention: Social representations of pre-exposure prophylaxis in the UK press. Health, 21(5), 478-497.
Nerlich, B. (2012). Biomilitarism and nanomedicine: Evil metaphors for the good of human health. Covalence.
If you want to know more about the pros and cons of war metaphors read this article by Flusberg, Matlock and Thibodeau
If you want to know more about emerging infectious diseases and society, there is a seminal book by Peter Washer
Image: Pxfuel: Library catalogue