Knowing pandemics

An investigation into the enactment of pandemic influenza preparedness in urban environments

  • Meike Wolf Goethe-University Frankfurt


How does microbial emergence become a local area of medical, political, and technological intervention in cities such as London or Frankfurt? Through a multi-sited ethnography of urban health authorities, hospitals, blue light services, and epidemiologists, this article examines the achievement of pandemic order in times of crisis. Its specific focus is on pandemic influenza preparedness. By tracing the complex spatiotemporal, technological, and administrative dimensions required for the articulation of a local pandemic threat, this paper will look at how public health experts know about the arrival of an influenza pandemic, how sociotechnical networks are assembled in the decision-making process, and how single cases of illness are drawn into spaces of pandemic potential. Integrating concepts from science and technology studies and critical global health, the article highlights how disease emergence entails hard work and administrative, technological, political, and biomedical skills in order to be made present and tangible. In consequence, it will be argued that local pandemic preparedness does not result from a linear adaption of internationally circulating standards, but from rather precarious modes and modalities of ordering.