Insect-borne diseases and viruses often are framed as scientific concerns, requiring study from researchers in the natural sciences. While this is not untrue, this assumption overlooks opportunities for examining these public health realities from a social perspective that engages the role of communication and culture in shaping understandings, everyday conversations, and policy about risk, control, contamination, expertise, and uncertainty, among other concepts. This LARC proposal emphasizes interdisciplinary insights and collaborations to approach insect-borne diseases and viruses, particularly Lyme Disease in the Pacific Northwest and the Dengue, Zika, and Chikungunya viruses in the southern United States and Puerto Rico. To examine the complexities of these public health realities, this summer I will review a variety of media about this topic, attending to message framing. This process will be informed by my ongoing research in Puerto Rico, which thus far has focused on environmental communication, using a variety of methods, including participant observation and personal interviews. This preliminary research will help me to engage the following questions with a LARC team of student and faculty collaborators: How do different discourses shape understandings about the human health consequences of insect-borne diseases and viruses? What topics and whose voices are amplified, minimized, and muted in these conversations, and what are the implications for policy making, public health programs, and everyday knowledge about insect-borne diseases and viruses? What competing understandings, experiences, and claims circulate about Lyme Disease, and how do these factors shape the discourses of medical professionals and patients and their families? How does the use of metaphors, such as “Lyme Wars” and “invasion,” to describe risk, exposure, and control get mapped onto particular bodies in ways that are raced, classed, and gendered, and what are the consequences of this framing and for whom? How does online communication enable and constrain public health discussions, including conversations about who “counts” as an expert? Working with an interdisciplinary team, committed to asking and answering these and other related questions, this project seeks to inform diverse stakeholders about the importance of communication and culture for understanding, shaping, and responding to public health realities linked to insect-borne diseases and viruses.

Willamette University

Liberal Arts Research Collaborative

900 State Street
Salem Oregon 97301 U.S.A.

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