Blurring Contagion in the Information Age: How COVID-19 Troubles the Boundaries of the Biomedical and Socioinformatic

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2021-04-19

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This project reexamines contagion in the time of the internet through utilizing COVID-19 as a case study. I first look at the biomedical implications of the term contagion through a historical lens and then track its leakage into sociocultural theories and mass media, where the term was used in an effort to explain the seemingly irrational behavior of mobs and crowds in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. I then chronicle COVID-19 and its existence as an Information Age virus- one that troubles the distinction of biomedical and cultural contagion, ultimately requiring a reimagining of the term. I argue that the introduction of the internet has made conceiving of contagion in purely biomedical terms impossible, and instead suggest that there is a biomedical-socioinformatic blurring that occurs in infectious disease today. Through interpreting contagion as a part of a constantly (re)assembling rhizome, I postulate that the internet has allowed information about an infectious disease to outpace its biomedical transmission, and that content and relationalities produced online become part of the virus itself, rendering the biomedical and the socioinformatic indistinct from one another. Finally, I suggest that the biomedical-socioinformatic virus is fundamentally political, and propose future directions for an incomplete and multiple immunity for society that finds resilience in the boundary-queering tendencies of contagion, using that logic as a framework to resist the perpetuation of oppressive ideologies and structures that contribute to the spread of both scientific misinformation about viruses and the viruses themselves.

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Petronis, Caroline (2021). Blurring Contagion in the Information Age: How COVID-19 Troubles the Boundaries of the Biomedical and Socioinformatic. Honors thesis, Duke University. Retrieved from https://hdl.handle.net/10161/22645.


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