The failure of colonial ‘distancing’: Changing representations of the 2005–06 chikungunya epidemic in Réunion, France

Weinstein, P. and Ravi, Srilata (2008) The failure of colonial ‘distancing’: Changing representations of the 2005–06 chikungunya epidemic in Réunion, France. Singapore Journal of Tropical Geography, 29 2: 221-235. doi:10.1111/j.1467-9493.2008.00330.x

Author Weinstein, P.
Ravi, Srilata
Title The failure of colonial ‘distancing’: Changing representations of the 2005–06 chikungunya epidemic in Réunion, France
Journal name Singapore Journal of Tropical Geography   Check publisher's open access policy
ISSN 0129-7619
Publication date 2008-07
Year available 2008
Sub-type Article (original research)
DOI 10.1111/j.1467-9493.2008.00330.x
Volume 29
Issue 2
Start page 221
End page 235
Total pages 15
Place of publication Singapore
Publisher Blackwell, with the Dept of Geography at the National University of Singapore.
Language eng
Subject 0406 Physical Geography and Environmental Geoscience
Abstract In 2005–06, the Indian Ocean island of Réunion, an overseas department of France, experienced a massive epidemic of the mosquito-borne viral infection chikungunya. Public health authorities in metropolitan France were arguably slow to react, and we explore their representations and management of the epidemic in the context of tropicality and colonial discourse. We analyse official reports on the epidemic from the bulletins of the Institut de Veillance Sanitaire (Institute for Health Surveillance) for changes in representations of risk posed by chikungunya to metropolitan France, in the emphasis on control measures for the epidemic and in descriptions of chikungunya case symptomatologies, and compare these with parallel representations of another epidemic, flu, already known in metropolitan France. Our findings illustrate that official responses to chikungunya at the beginning of the epidemic are suggestive of a centred tropicality: there is no perceived risk to metropolitan France because of its nontropical climate; thus, there is no justification for costly control measures for a disease inevitable in the tropics; and therefore the symptoms of French nationals in overseas departments in the tropics can be described in detached terms so as to generate knowledge about the disease. However, this 'distancing' fails with the perceived risk to metropolitan France towards the end of the epidemic in late 2006, when representations are more consistent with a decentred tropicality: the concept of a protective metropolitan French climate is abandoned; the need for a whole-of-society involvement in control measures is accepted; and symptoms are described using more inclusive language. Similar changes are not found in official reports on the flu epidemic.
Keyword Chikungunya
Q-Index Code C1
Q-Index Status Provisional Code
Institutional Status Unknown

Document type: Journal Article
Sub-type: Article (original research)
Collections: Excellence in Research Australia (ERA) - Collection
School of Public Health Publications
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Created: Tue, 12 Jan 2010, 14:05:38 EST by Sue Green on behalf of Faculty Of Health Sciences