Accepted Paper:

Between Panic and Panic - Fear as a Dangerous Balance in Epidemic Governance  


Swen Seebach (UAB (Autonomous University Barcelona))
Marco Maureira (Autonomous University of Barcelona)
Pedro Torrejón Cano (Universidad Autónoma de Barcelona )
Clara Méndez Hernández (Universitat Autónoma de Barcelona)

Paper short abstract:

This paper argues that a regime of pandemic preparedness can only be installed in the form of fear balancing two forms of panic, controlling present and future. Observations from focus groups will shed light on the construction and management of fear under a horizon of global pandemic threats.

Paper long abstract:

The role that global threats play in the governance of society and its members is undeniable. During the last decade epidemics, such as Ebola, Avian Flu, SARS and Zika have taken over the role of a mediator between a general appeal to engage carefully and with the necessary foresight with the future, and the concrete forms in which people might and are called to react. As temporary myths they allow the perpetuation of a general regime of preparedness for whatever the future will bring.

In his book Pandemic Perhaps, Caduff writes that "Endemic to pandemic preparedness as a structure of mobilization was a fundamental tension between the need to promote a sense of urgency, on the one hand, and the imperative to avoid panic and overreaction, on the other."

This paper argues that such a regime of pandemic preparedness can only be installed in the form of fear as a pivotal point between two forms of panic. Whilst an overemphasis of possible risks in the present would destroy people's trust into the future and therefore any sense of control, a lack of emphasis would lead to a panic in the case that really something happened. Fear instead balances these two forms of panic and brings them under different forms of individual and social control.

Within various focus groups we discovered such fears even if covered by layers of scepticism and doubt. We want to argue that doubts and scepticisms are discourse immanent strategies to reply to an excess of risk.

Panel T058
Biorisk Intelligence otherwise: Scenarios, Visual Knowledge and new Mechanisms of Surveillance