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Representations of far-flung illnesses: the case of Ebola in Britain

Joffe, H; Haarhoff, G; (2002) Representations of far-flung illnesses: the case of Ebola in Britain. SOC SCI MED , 54 (6) 955 - 969.

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Abstract

In western cultures lay people are faced with a plethora of far-flung illnesses, relayed to them by the mass media. A number of social scientists have called for scrutiny of the link between people's patterns of thinking concerning such events, and the messages to which they are exposed. Using the outbreaks of Ebola in Africa in the mid-1990s as a vehicle, the study examines how British broadsheets and their readers, and British tabloids and their readers, make sense of this far-flung illness. Existing work on early representations of HIV/AIDS in the west is utilised to inform the research questions. In particular. this study investigates whether Ebola is constructed as a threat, how media and lay representations of Ebola interact, and whether there are different pockets of shared thinking, or a more uniform representation, in relation to Ebola in Britain. An analysis of the themes in 48 broadsheet and tabloid articles, and 50 interviews with their readers, reveals a common picture in which Ebola is represented as African, associated with African practices, and seen as posing little threat to Britain. However, group differences exist, and are characterised by a more essentialised vision of Ebola in the tabloids and their readers, in contrast to a focus on structural features linked to Ebola's escalation in the broadsheets and their readers. In terms of the media-mind relationship, beyond the similarities found between media type and their respective readers' ideas, certain key differences exist: While the newspapers make Ebola 'real' by referring to its potential to globalise, as well as to how it can be contained. lay thinkers feel detached from it, and draw an analogy between Ebola and science fiction. This is discussed as a method of symbolic coping on the part of the readers, as well as in terms of the power exerted by media imagery on lay representations of Ebola. (C) 2002 Elsevier Science Ltd. All rights reserved.

Type: Article
Title: Representations of far-flung illnesses: the case of Ebola in Britain
Keywords: Ebola virus, social representations, media imagery, SOCIAL REPRESENTATIONS, HEALTH, AIDS, WORLDS, MEDIA
UCL classification: UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > School of Life and Medical Sciences
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > School of Life and Medical Sciences > Faculty of Brain Sciences
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > School of Life and Medical Sciences > Faculty of Brain Sciences > Div of Psychology and Lang Sciences
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > School of Life and Medical Sciences > Faculty of Brain Sciences > Div of Psychology and Lang Sciences > Clinical, Edu and Hlth Psychology
URI: http://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/11683
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