Pandemics of the future: Disease surveillance in real time

Thomas, Lindsay
April 2014
Surveillance & Society;2014, Vol. 12 Issue 2, p287
Academic Journal
This paper explores disease surveillance systems in relation to preparedness, a security paradigm that strives to make future catastrophic events available for "real time" intervention in the present. I examine three different disease surveillance systems-- the Global Influenza Surveillance and Response System, which is composed of physical laboratories and online information dissemination tools; Flu Trends, an algorithmic syndromic surveillance system; and EpiSimS and EpiCast, agent-based epidemiological modeling platforms--in relation to three different temporal logics of preparedness--tracking, anticipating, and projecting. These logical modulations all reflect different temporalities of preparedness, or different ways of making the future present, and there are two important implications of my attention to these logics. First, I argue these disease surveillance systems extend surveillance from the present into the future, constructing the very catastrophic threats for which they seek to prepare. Second, I argue the concept of "real time" on which preparedness depends arises from the technologies that construct this particular understanding of temporality. What's more, the "real time" these systems construct is never the instantaneous erasure of the present; instead, I emphasize real time as multiple, as the proliferation of the present. At stake is an understanding of the ways in which preparedness establishes its own authority to make the future present by creating the very condition of unpreparedness it works to remedy.


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