Panel 5

‘Outbreak’: Science, governance, and responding otherwise to challenges to come

Organizers: Kari Lancaster (1); Tim Rhodes (1,2)

1: University of New South Wales, Australia; 2: London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine

Topics: Health policies, governance and practices in a postpandemic era

Keywords: Outbreak, health, pandemics, governance, temporality

Outbreaks and outbreak science are key concerns in light of Covid-19. How ‘outbreaks’ are thought about and materialised through scientific practices and technological solutions shapes what is possible in the governance of crisis, health, and populations, with profound social and material repercussions. There is growing investment in new methods and infrastructures of knowledge coordination to prepare for threats to come, and to improve epidemic preparedness and emergency response. The fast changing field of outbreak science is developing and testing new technologies of detection, prediction and projection, and creating new platforms to coordinate data on outbreaks as evidence for decision-making. But whether configured as crises, emergencies or aberrations subject to routine risk management, ‘outbreaks’ are not neutral. Outbreaks are dynamic forms of anticipatory governance which through their evidence-making constitute problems and responses in particular ways, especially in their temporal relations (Anderson, 2021; Lakoff, 2019; Lancaster & Rhodes, forthcoming; Rhodes & Lancaster, 2019). What are the effects of framing and foreseeing ‘outbreaks’ in this mode? What ways of knowing and doing preparedness and response do the practices and infrastructures of outbreak science open up and foreclose through their promise of fast, actionable information in situations of uncertainty? How can we think about evidencing outbreaks otherwise?

In this panel, we trace how configurations of ‘outbreak’ are problematised and govern, through scientific practices. Looking across different forms of outbreak in relation to health – from viruses and diseases, and other hazards – the panel considers the rationalities and effects of outbreak imaginaries, and their entanglements with science, policy and publics. In addition to tracing how different scientific technologies enact outbreak – such as methods of early warning, detection, surveillance, modelling and projection – we ask what outbreak makes absent or obscures, especially in relation to the long and slow emergence of health concerns (Lancaster & Rhodes, forthcoming). In doing so, the panel deliberates on how outbreak science might be made otherwise (Stengers, 2018). We invite papers which aim to open up alternative modes of problematising outbreak, which emphasise complex ecological and more-than-human relations of health, disease and crisis (Anderson, 2021; Hinchliffe et al., 2021; Wigen et al., 2022). Through this critical engagement, together we consider the politics involved in the production, coordination and governance of the real that is constituted as ‘outbreak’, stimulating inter-national, inter-species and inter-generational justice perspectives in this post-pandemic era and for the challenges to come.