Article ID: CBB248429145

The model crisis, or how to have critical promiscuity in the time of Covid-19 (April 2021)


During the past forty years, statistical modelling and simulation have come to frame perceptions of epidemic disease and to determine public health interventions that might limit or suppress the transmission of the causative agent. The influence of such formulaic disease modelling has pervaded public health policy and practice during the Covid-19 pandemic. The critical vocabulary of epidemiology, and now popular debate, thus includes R0, the basic reproduction number of the virus, ‘flattening the curve’, and epidemic ‘waves’. How did this happen? What are the consequences of framing and foreseeing the pandemic in these modes? Focusing on historical and contemporary disease responses, primarily in Britain, I explore the emergence of statistical modelling as a ‘crisis technology’, a reductive mechanism for making rapid decisions or judgments under uncertain biological constraint. I consider how Covid-19 might be configured or assembled otherwise, constituted as a more heterogeneous object of knowledge, a different and more encompassing moment of truth – not simply as a measured telos directing us to a new normal. Drawing on earlier critical engagements with the AIDS pandemic, inquiries into how to have ‘theory’ and ‘promiscuity’ in a crisis, I seek to open up a space for greater ecological, sociological, and cultural complexity in the biopolitics of modelling, thereby attempting to validate a role for critique in the Covid-19 crisis.

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Authors & Contributors
McDonald, Kate
Phillips, Christopher J.
Pépin, Jacques
Smallman, Shawn C.
Brazelton, Mary Augusta
Shrum, Wesley
Journal of Asian Studies
Mefisto: Rivista di medicina, filosofia, storia
Historical Studies in the Natural Sciences
Social Studies of Science
Journal of Global History
Cambridge University Press
The University of North Carolina Press
Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19)
Public health
Medicine and society
Medicine and politics
Technoscience; science and technology studies
Rosenberg, Charles E.
Time Periods
21st century
20th century
20th century, late
20th century, early
Latin America
Democratic Republic of the Congo
New Zealand

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