Vol 5 No 1 (2021)

Pandemic infrastructure: epidemiology as compartmentalization

Susanne Bauer
TIK Centre for Technology, Innovation and Culture, University of Oslo
Published October 20, 2021
  • epidemiology,
  • infrastructure,
  • calculative techniques,
  • data practices,
  • COVID-19


This article examines modes of containment and compartmentalization in epidemiology and pandemic response. Modern epidemiology is positioned as the key method in public health science and source of information for pandemic response policies. The epidemiological apparatus of observation works with tracking and sense-making techniques at the intersection of demography and biometrics. With late 20 th century technoscientific developments, epidemiology has acquired a particular form of outcomes research. This includes a particular infrastructural enactment of the concept of ‘population’, prompting specific modes of data capture and containment that also feature in today’s coronavirus dashboards. Building on genomics data repositories, epidemiological study designs mediate data recombination that repurposes existing databases and promotes capture-all techniques for viral surveillance. Focusing on the orderings enacted by the epidemiological techniques in their formation, legacies, and actualizations, I discuss how data-intensive biosurveillance and efforts to foster openness are currently transforming the ‘epidemiologic gaze’. As ‘capture-all’ technologies operate across heterogeneous worlds, they fail to capture the implications of inequitably distributed risks and benefits in global health. Analyzing the apparatus of observation and capture in epidemiology can make room for engaging differently with numerous devices toward more equitable public health responses.