2019: Viral Fear: The Global Ebola Response

Viral Fear: The Global Ebola Response
AYA project leader: Marci Cottingham

Research in the social sciences on epidemics has detailed the emotions of those directly impacted by a disease. Yet as Ebola panic in the global north spread over the course of the 2014-2016 outbreak, airline travel was restricted, recruitment of health workers hampered, and the possibility of solving the outbreak—the very source of such fear—became intractable. Fear spread beyond the reach of the virus itself. But how? As Ebola continues to wreak havoc (now in the DRC), the answer to this question is paramount. This interdisciplinary project will examine epidemic emotions from the perspective of international organizations and remote publics. Emotion scholarship has predominantly focused on individuals, with less attention to collective, digital, and cross-cultural processes. Tracing viral fear is key to understanding how a rising death toll in West Africa connected disparate events across the globe. From nursing strikes in Spain to a schoolyard attack in the Bronx—viral fear connotes both a fear of the Ebola virus and its viral-like spread during an outbreak. Through cross-national comparisons and innovative digital data sources, the project findings will move the study of emotion out of the laboratory and into the global, digital fray. In a hyper-connected world, understanding viral fear is critical to creating effective global health policies.

This is an interdisciplinary project that builds on Marci Cottingham’s past interdisciplinary work in science and technology studies, media studies, and global health. The project combines news and social media data to understand how the 2014-2016 Ebola epidemic was represented in the news and how remote publics responded to it through social media. Funding will be used for a research assistant to help in organizing and analyzing social media data. The project overlaps with AYA’s interests in (1) developing interdisciplinary work, (2) in increasing diversity in the academy, and (3) in fostering mentorship for early career scholars. Findings from the study will be disseminated to AYA and the public through interdisciplinary journals, the AYA website, and a blog post.