Compliant, complacent or panicked? Investigating the problematisation of the Australian general public in pandemic influenza control

Mark Davis, Niamh Stephenson, Paul Flowers

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

21 Citations (Scopus)


This article examines how pandemic influenza control policies interpellate the public. We analyse Australian pandemic control documents and key informant interviews, with reference to the H1N1 virus in 2009. Our analysis suggests that the episodic and uncertain features of pandemic influenza give control measures a pronounced tactical character. The general public is seen as passive and, in some cases, vulnerable to pandemic influenza. Communication focuses on promoting public compliance with prescribed guidelines, but without inspiring complacency, panic or other unruly responses. These assumptions depend, however, on a limited social imaginary of publics responding to pandemics. Drawing on Foucault, we consider how it is that these assumptions regarding the public responses to pandemics have taken their present form. We show that the virological modelling used in planning and health securitisation both separate pandemic control from its publics. Further, these approaches to planning rely on a restricted view of human agency and therefore preclude alternatives to compliance-complacency-panic and, as we suggest, compromise pandemic control. On this basis we argue that effective pandemic control requires a systematic dialogue with the publics it seeks to prepare in anticipation of the event of pandemic influenza.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)912-918
Number of pages7
JournalSocial Science and Medicine
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 1 Mar 2011


  • Australia
  • communication
  • H1N1
  • pandemic influenza
  • panic
  • policy
  • public

Cite this