More Than a Health Crisis
Securitization and the US Response to the 2013–2016 Ebola Outbreak
240 pp., 6 x 9 in, 1 b&w illus.
- Published: October 24, 2023
- Publisher: The MIT Press
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.
“Rich in detail about the responses to the West African Ebola outbreak and elegantly written, Jessica Kirk's book is a welcome addition to the health securitization literature.”
Jeremy Youde, Dean, College of Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences, University of Minnesota Duluth
“Kirk's nuanced analysis shines new light on the media, political, and public discourses that shaped the US's Ebola response, and in turn its reactions to subsequent disease crises.”
Simon Rushton, Professor of Politics and International Relations, University of Sheffield
“A compelling, must-read that squarely confronts the problem of global health security being about many things, but never the health of the most vulnerable. Kirk is an important voice in how we think about security in the world.”
Sophie Harman, Professor, Queen Mary University of London
“Discussions about securitization in global health often revolve around frustratingly vague and unexamined claims. This book demonstrates how relevant and fruitful the analysis of securitization can be. Leaving no stones unturned, it delivers a detailed analysis of the US response to the West Africa Ebola outbreak. But it does more. By examining the interaction of discourses within securitization processes, the book reveals the contested and open-ended character of health security. Its analysis of the interplay between ideas, practices and material conditions raises the bar in securitization studies and in the global health literature more generally. I think the impact of this book will be lasting and wide-ranging.”
João Nunes, Senior Lecturer, International Relations, Director of Postgraduate Taught Programmes, Department of Politics, University of York