THE USE OF ACTOR-NETWORK THEORY IN ANALYSIS OF SOCIAL CRISIS AND DISASTERS

N. B. Andersen & P. Almlund, Communication, Business and Information Technologi, ROSKILDE UNIVERSITY, Roskilde, Denmark

Abstract

In disaster research it has been discussed how to approach floods, earthquakes chemical spills, terror attacks etc – if they are to be regarded as external agents appearing from outside or as inherent parts of society.

The 2009 pandemic flu was presented as a large scale threat towards society. Though the accounts of the severity of the flu went through several changes from the virus was detected in Mexico in April until December 2009. High mortality was foreseen, much effort was put into prevention of contagion and production of vaccines. As the epidemic approached Europe, vaccines were released but a number of citizens rejected the offer. In Denmark – as well as in other European countries – it was questioned whether the vaccine posed an even worse threat than the virus.

Within the sociological research on disaster and social crisis it is a dominant tradition to analyse social agency and discourses identified in relation to disasters. Though as the virus and the vaccines seem to have constructed and structured many social practices in the course of the pandemic this paper questions if the analysis of the social crisis of the flu can gain from actor-network theory.

The virus, the vaccines, the medical experts, civil servants, the media and citizens will be investigated as actors, whether human or non-human, from the principles of ‘generalized symmetry’ and ‘free association’. This kind of relational actor analysis may show how the virus and the vaccines are of strong autonomous relevance in order to understand the many different interpretations of the severity of the virus and the relevance of vaccination. These different interpretations and struggles could be seen as more than a conflict between laymen and experts and should be understood through the logic of both human and non-human actors.

The empirical data are produced through interviews with Danish authorities on national level, with general medical practitioners and women who were offered vaccination due to pregnancy during the pandemic flu. In addition a media analysis has been carried out.

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