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More Than a Health Crisis: Securitization and the US Response to the 2013-2016 Ebola Outbreak

More Than a Health Crisis: Securitization and the US Response to the 2013-2016 Ebola Outbreak

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Publication Date: October 24th, 2023
The MIT Press
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How the West African Ebola epidemic was transformed from an urgent and distant tragedy into an existential threat to American lives—establishing the dynamics that would later dominate the US response to epidemics such as COVID-19.

In 2014 and 2015, the viral Ebola epidemic in West Africa inspired breathless US media coverage and became the subject of heated public debate over just how to understand the security issue that the outbreak presented. Was it a security concern because of the lives at risk in West Africa? Or because of its threat to regional and global stability? Or was it potentially a threat to the American people? In More Than a Health Crisis, Jessica Kirk reveals how these varied positions spoke to divisions within the American public, concerning how we think about and respond to uncertainty, competing expertise, and securitization.

Kirk insightfully examines how experts in different fields offered conflicting assessments of the risks posed by Ebola, and then goes on to analyze how the US press undermined the authority of the public health experts who accurately predicted that the virus posed little danger to Americans. Reading the media coverage of the Ebola epidemic as a case study in the biopolitics of fear, Kirk considers how the US response reflected not only anxieties over globalization but also long-held narratives about the “Dark Continent.” Finally, Kirk shows how the US and global public response to the Ebola outbreak challenged traditional models of securitization and identifies patterns that have tragically recurred with subsequent epidemics such as COVID-19 and monkeypox.

About the Author

Jessica Kirk is Research Fellow in the Centre for Governance and Public Policy at Griffith University in Brisbane. She is also Chief Investigator on an ARC Discovery Project on COVID-19 and the politics of expertise, and her work has appeared in such journals as International Studies Quarterly and Global Studies Quarterly.