Mobility Regimes of Pandemic Preparedness and Response: The Case of COVID-19

The COVID-19 pandemic dramatically shows how the emergence and global proliferation of pathogens are closely interrelated with different types of human and nonhuman mobilities. Countries are addressing the disease threat posed by the pandemic with varying approaches to restrictions and surveillance of movement with yet unknown social, economic, and political outcomes. This project argues that the individual and collective costs of immobilization – and the privileges of mobility – are distributed unevenly within and across countries. It approaches these disparities by examining pandemic preparedness and response as a mobility regime in which im/mobilities are governed by complex actors, networks, technologies, and scientific expertise.

Our project explores these mobility regimes through an ethnographic study of the diversity of lived experiences of various instances of im/mobilization in a globalized world. Our team focuses on the Democratic Republic of Congo, South Africa, Germany, and South Korea to explore how mobility regimes have emerged historically at our research sites, and how COVID-19 shapes new mobility regimes by enforcing immobilities – and granting movement – over different phases of the pandemic. These case studies offer unique insights into countries with and without previous experience with recent epidemic outbreaks, and represent a broad range of low-, middle- and high-income countries in the Global South and Global North.

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