Immunity, biopolitics and pandemics: public and individual responses to the threat to life

Mark Davis, Paul Flowers, Davina Lohm, Emily Waller, Niamh Stephenson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

20 Citations (Scopus)


This article examines discourse on immunity in general public engagements with pandemic influenza in light of critical theory on immuno-politics and bodily integrity. Interview and focus group discussions on influenza with members of the general public reveal that, despite endorsement of government advice on how to avoid infection, influenza is seen as, ultimately, unavoidable. In place of prevention, members of the general public speak of immunity as the means of coping with influenza infection. Such talk on corporeal life under microbial threat is informed by self/not-self, network and ‘choice’ immunity, and therefore makes considerable allowance for cosmopolitan traffic with others, microbes, ‘dirt’ and immune-boosting consumer products. The immuno-political orientation of members of the general public, therefore, appears to trend towards a productive cosmopolitanism that contrasts with more orthodox bioscientific and governmental approaches to pandemic influenza. We reflect on the implications of the immuno-cosmopolitanism of everyday life for the advent of global public health emergency and for biopolitical rule in general.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)130-154
Number of pages25
JournalBody and Society
Issue number4
Early online date13 Mar 2016
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2016


  • biopolitics
  • biovalue
  • bodily integrity
  • immunity
  • pandemics


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