CfP for edited volume: Points of View on Swine Flu: What Was the 2009 Pandemic?

Kristian Bjørkdahl's picture
Call for Publications
August 31, 2016
Subject Fields: 
Humanities, Journalism and Media Studies, Public Health, Social Sciences, History of Science, Medicine, and Technology





Kristian Bjørkdahl & Benedicte Carlsen (eds)
Rokkan Centre for Social Studies, Bergen


In 2009, a pandemic attacked the world, for the first time in over 40 years. Or did it? The status of the so-called swine flu – A(H1N1) – in the popular imagination is more complicated than its official designation might imply, since from the first outbreak of the disease to its prolonged aftermath, this particular pandemic was disputed and contested – with its harshest critics questioning its very status as such.

While health authorities and media at first were keen to prophesy a new Spanish flu, with scenarios of up to 120 million deaths worldwide, the actual death toll was in the order of 18 500. Meanwhile, the seasonal flu claims between 250 000 and 500 000 lives annually. Some take this to mean that the swine flu was nothing but a bluff – a «Winnie the Pooh Flu», as one professor of social medicine called it. But could the same course of events not be understood as an impressive success, as a veritable demonstration of how public health preparedness and response is supposed to work? While this largely seems to be the conclusion of the health authorities themselves, the critics are not convinced. The swine flu, critics say, was first of all an imagined threat, initiated and executed by a huge medical apparatus, at the cost of the taxpayers, but to the benefit of Big Pharma. The health authorities respond to this criticism by saying that this apparatus saves lives – and that it did so also in this case. Other critics claim, however, that if the swine flu had turned out to be as lethal as the Spanish flu, the distribution of vaccines would have been far from adequate, and thus the public health apparatus would have failed also in this perspective.

The fact that various groups and people understand and assess this rare event so differently makes it pertinent to ask: What was the 2009 pandemic? How should it be understood? To what extent, and in what ways, did we (authorities, media, doctors, citizens) handle the situation well? Was the 2009 pandemic a success for public health? And what – if anything – can we learn from the event?

For this interdisciplinary edited volume, we invite scholars from the humanities, social sciences, public health research, medicine, and other relevant fields, to contribute abstracts of chapters that offer novel insight into the 2009 pandemic. We call, in particular, for contributions that acknowledge the complexity of this episode, but which offer interesting and useful ways of approaching its complexity.


An abstract of maximum 500 words should be sent, with a short bio, to by 31 August 2016. Authors will be notified within three weeks about whether or not their abstract is accepted. A full chapter of 7000-9000 words is due in 1st draft 30 November 2016. After the editors’ comments, a 2nd draft is due 17 January 2017.


Contact Info: 

Kristian Bjørkdahl & Benedicte Carlsen
Rokkan Centre for Social Studies
Bergen, Norway