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SAMKUL-Samfunnsutviklingens kulturell

The Lifetimes of Epidemics in Europe and the Middle East

Alternative title: Epidemiers livstider i Europa og Midtøsten

Awarded: NOK 9.0 mill.

Through two years of pandemic, people all over the world have really experienced how epidemics can re-arrange time. The colloquial term "these times of crisis" actually reveals what is an altered sense of time. The "before COVID" is easy to locate in time, but placing events in time when people were all staying at home is not as easy. This project sets out to answer what are the social, cultural, biological and epidemiological reasons for the collective feeling of living in a "different time", i.e. the time of the epidemic? What makes an epidemic such a forceful experience that it changes the familiarity of time itself? These questions are highly relevant for this project. Firstly, epidemics are more than just medical phenomena. They represent a threat that demands collective social response. They lead to a perceived co-existence with microbes that are usually invisible to us, and whose time carries different rhythms and durations than we do. Time spent in quarantine, time waiting for a vaccine, and the time it takes for the crisis to be declared over stands in stark contrast to the frenetic time of the virus' reproduction and mutation. We are interested in the different scales of time that epidemics operate on or implement. At the beginning of the epidemic, the project mapped the forceful acceleration of political processes, together with the "pausing" of social life. We disseminated and published on the question of kairos in epidemic outbreak. In the project's latter parts, we researched the more kronos-based rythms that make up the everyday in a pandemic, and to explore how the end of epidemics are underwhelming and unfocused because they are out of synch with one another. At the end of the period, the project has taken up research into historical epdemics, and looks at when, how and why plague epidemics began, spread and ended i the Ottoman Empire long after western Europe experienced regular plague epidemics. One may claim that the second plague pandemic had a 150 year longer lifetime in the Ottoman Empire than in, for example, Britain. Furthermore, the project tentatively looks at how this difference in historical experience may have been tied to and give rise to different approaches to how epidemics can be handled and ended through political and medical intervention.

This project sets out to study what we refer to as the "lifetimes of epidemics", which include the lifetimes and mutation times of microbes, the speed of the transmission of pathogens, and the lifetimes of the human body, as well as the temporal arrangements involved in global health governance, response and control. We explore the temporal experiences and arrangements at work in biopolitical concepts and practices, in which biological, political, scientific, technological, and social temporalities combine to form "temporal arrangements", which serve to govern human lives. The long-term planning-horizon of biosecurity and the event-like immediacy of an epidemic are only two of the most striking examples. A lot of work has been done on the history of epidemics, not least on the biography of specific diseases. The objective of this project is to combine medical history, global history, conceptual history, media history, and literary criticism, in order to create a richer, more complex picture of the epidemic event. Furthermore, event will be used as an analytic term, even a prism, to gain a synchronic transnational view of what is happening in different places, such as Oslo and Istanbul. The project will map the set of concepts used to describe the epidemic event, such as "epidemic", "crisis", and "emerging disease". Using both quantitative and qualitative methods as well as methods from translation and transfer studies, we will explore how these concepts have moved, both in time and in space. At each moment of usage, new and innovative meanings compete with traditional ones, forming different layers of meaning at work in the concepts. In part these competing meanings are the results of entanglements across languages, to the extent that Norwegian and Turkish usages echoes the usage in the Anglophone world. We will also study how new concepts are coined and new meanings emerge in genres that envision future catastrophic epidemic events.

Publications from Cristin

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SAMKUL-Samfunnsutviklingens kulturell