Article ID: CBB001421163

When the Spread of Disease Becomes a Global Event: The Classification of Pandemics (2013)


The classification of novel disease events is central to public health action surrounding them. Drawing upon the sociology of scientific classification, this article examines the role and contestation of the World Health Organization's Pandemic Alert Phases, as applied to the spread of 2009/10 H1N1 Influenza. The analysis of World Health Organization texts, including policy documents, public statements and epidemiological documents, has been utilized to examine the Organization's actions and public narratives around the event of H1N1. Analytically, the functional role of such classificatory schemes and the social construction of scientific classifications are examined. It is argued that in understanding the World Health Organization's 2009/10 application of the Pandemic Alert Phases, the critical limitation of the functions served by the classificatory scheme led to the breakdown of its construction. This case study highlights the importance of classification for the successful production of scientific `facts', the constructed nature of classificatory systems and the potential for contestation that arises when such classifications do not adequately fulfil their functional roles.

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Authors & Contributors
Dehner, George
Kolata, Gina Bari
MacDougall, Heather A.
Porras, María Isabel
Báguena Cervellera, María José
Ballester, Rosa
Journal of the History of Medicine and Allied Sciences
História, Ciências, Saúde---Manguinhos
Dynamis: Acta Hispanica ad Medicinae Scientiarumque Historiam Illustrandam
Science in Context
Medizin, Gesellschaft, und Geschichte
Centaurus: International Magazine of the History of Mathematics, Science, and Technology
Farrar, Straus & Giroux
University of Massachusetts Press
University of Pittsburgh Press
University of Toronto Press
Ohio University Press
University of California, Davis
Public health
Disease and diseases
Infectious diseases
Time Periods
20th century, early
20th century
20th century, late
21st century
19th century
18th century
Toronto (Ontario)
Massachusetts (U.S.)
World Health Organization (WHO)
European Association against Poliomyelitis

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