An International Conference
5 to 6 December 2013
Centre for the Humanities and Medicine
The University of Hong Kong
China is often represented in the West as a ‘hot spot’ in the ‘battle’ against emerging infectious diseases. Outbreaks of Avian Influenza in 1997 and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) in 2002/3 drew the world’s attention to the region’s vulnerabilities. International public health reports and scientific publications, newspaper articles, fictional accounts, and the movies, invariably depict China as the ‘frontline’: a place where disease thrives, and where social, political, and economic forces are drivers of an imminent global pandemic.
Viral Imaginaries seeks to challenge these stereotypes by asking: How do the storylines, images, and identities of infectious diseases differ in China and the West? What are the consequences for global health of these differences? How are biomedicine and public health intertwined in China with issues of social order and identity? And to what extent has an increasingly globalized world, characterized by social media, transformed the ways in which local disease events are understood and responded to?
The conference will bring together scholars from a wide range of disciplines, including the history of health, cultural and media studies, comparative literature, anthropology, and political science, to reconsider the critical role that infectious diseases have played in the constitution of – and contestation over – national imaginaries. The aim is to explore disease as a ‘viral’ phenomenon; that is, in relation to diffusions of information, ideas, and affects, through socio-cultural networks. The focus is on the circulation of discourses of health and disease, and on representations of infectious threats as a ‘grammar of difference’ in the formation of regional, national, and transnational identities. Viral Imaginaries thus aims to furnish a platform for exploring the multi-dimensionality of current and future epidemics.
The scope of the conference is chiefly on the period after the establishment of the People’s Republic of China in 1949, with particular emphasis on the decades after 1980, which witnessed China’s ‘liberalization’ and the emergence, globally, of many novel infectious diseases, including HIV/AIDS. However, attention is also paid to the historical contexts provided by earlier disease outbreaks. A key emphasis is on how contemporary ‘viral’ imaginaries recuperate and rework earlier Western anxieties about China as the ‘sick man’ of Asia – and, reciprocally, on how they articulate Chinese anxieties about ‘Western’-driven disease. Viral Imaginaries thus seeks to promote fresh thinking about disease emergence from a comparative China-West perspective, bringing much-needed social, cultural, and historical perspectives to research on communicable disease.
The proceedings of the conference are planned to be published. Individual and/or panel proposals (3-4 papers) are invited. Please submit an abstract (no more than 300 words) and a short bio with contact information to firstname.lastname@example.org. Deadline for submissions is Friday 28 June 2013. We hope to notify participants by Monday 15 July 2013.
*Some travel assistance may be available for accepted papers. * The Conference is supported by the Hsu Long-sing Research Fund through the Faculty of Arts at HKU.