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Rhetoric of a Global Epidemic

Transcultural Communication about SARS

Huiling Ding

Publication Year: 2014

In the past ten years, we have seen great changes in the ways government organizations and media respond to and report on emerging global epidemics. The first outbreak to garner such attention was SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome). In Rhetoric of a Global Epidemic, Huiling Ding uses SARS to explore how various cultures and communities made sense of the epidemic and communicated about it. She also investigates the way knowledge production and legitimation operate in global epidemics, the roles that professionals and professional communicators, as well as individual citizens, play in the communication process, points of contention within these processes, and possible entry points for ethical and civic intervention.

Focusing on the rhetorical interactions among the World Health Organization, the United States, China, and Canada, Rhetoric of a Global Epidemic investigates official communication and community grassroots risk tactics employed during the SARS outbreak. It consists of four historical cases, which examine the transcultural risk communication about SARS in different geopolitical regions at different stages. The first two cases deal with risk communication practices at the early stage of the SARS epidemic when it originated in southern China. The last two cases move to transcultural rhetorical networks surrounding SARS.

With such threats as SARS, avian flu, and swine flu capturing the public imagination and prompting transnational public health preparedness efforts, the need for a rhetoric of global epidemics has never been greater. Government leaders, public health officials, health care professionals, journalists, and activists can learn how to more effectively craft and manage transcultural risk communication from Ding’s examination of the complex and varied modes of communication around SARS. In addition to offering a detailed case study, Rhetoric of a Global Epidemic provides a critical methodology that professional communicators can use in their investigations of epidemics and details approaches to facilitating more open, participatory risk communication at all levels.

Published by: Southern Illinois University Press

Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. vii-x

A book is never written alone. I am fortunate to have mentors all along the way when working on this book. I thank first and foremost Patricia Sullivan for guiding me to think seriously about research methodologies and for inspiring me to undertake challenging work. Michael Salvo, Thomas Rickert...

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Introduction: Transcultural Flows, Communication, and Rhetorics during a Global Epidemic

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pp. 1-28

Imagine that you go to bed early after a long day at work. After midnight, you are awakened by a phone call from a friend who lives far away. He sounds frantic: “People are dying. The epidemic is spreading. There are no masks left here, and online orders won’t arrive for at least two weeks.” You’re tired and immediately think he must be overreacting. Rumors...

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1. Critical Contextualized Methodology for Transcultural Communication Study

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pp. 29-64

Involving multiple players working at different geopolitical, cultural, and institutional sites over a relatively long period of time, intercultural communication about global events poses huge challenges for both researchers and practitioners because of its sheer complexity, interactivity, and richness. Despite...

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2. Risk Communication about an Emerging Epidemic in Guangdong, China

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pp. 65-103

With avian flu posing a catastrophic pandemic threat capable of breaking out in any part of the world, the study of global risk communication practices, particularly that of risk communication practices in non-Western cultures, becomes increasingly important. Only with the understanding of...

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3. Rhetorics of Alternative Media, Censorship, and SARS

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pp. 104-133

To help address these questions, this chapter reports the results of a rhetorical study that examined health risk communication about SARS in China during a period of utter confusion and official silence. The initial stage of the SARS outbreak, which occurred between November 2002 and...

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4. Constructing SARS: The United States, China, and WHO

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pp. 134-197

...Mao clearly lays out the approach to launch a people’s war. In addition to having a strong army, “we must also organize contingents of the people’s militia on a big scale. This will make it difficult for the imperialists to move a single inch in our country in the event of invasion” (89–90). Among his...

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5. Transnational Risk Management of SARS and H1N1 Flu via Travel Advisories

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pp. 198-238

To address the questions raised above, this study investigates the transnational risk policies surrounding SARS and the H1N1 flu in 2003 and 2009, respectively. Both risk management processes biopolitically monitored global flows of people from and to outbreak areas through the transnational...

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Conclusion: Transcultural Communication and Rhetoric about Global Epidemics

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pp. 239-258

This book contributes to studies of transcultural communication and the rhetoric of global epidemics through nuanced investigation of discourses about SARS, the first emerging epidemic in the new millennium. It proposes and applies a theoretical framework of transcultural communication to study...

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Appendix: Additional Notes on Methodology and Sources

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pp. 259-270

It is my belief that thick description of research methods should not be a convention and privilege of ethnography but one that would strengthen any study with methodological challenges. When discussing my studies about the transcultural communication about SARS, people have repeatedly asked me the following questions: How...


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pp. 271-278

Works Cited

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pp. 279-312


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pp. 313-325

About the Author, Back Cover

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E-ISBN-13: 9780809333202
E-ISBN-10: 0809333201
Print-ISBN-13: 9780809333196
Print-ISBN-10: 0809333198

Page Count: 328
Illustrations: 27
Publication Year: 2014