Degree

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

Sociology

Document Type

Dissertation

Abstract

Uncertainty is a characteristic feature of emerging infectious disease (EID) epidemics. The onset of such epidemics is marked by the uncertainty of the nature of the causative pathogen, its disease and risk characteristics, mode of transmission, disease etiology, preventive measures, and the virulence it unleashes on the human body. Although scientists develop new knowledge during the epidemic to curb these uncertainties, people are still faced with the uncertainty of being exposed to and infected by the causative pathogen and suffering the harm of infection. Risk, a measure of these uncertainties, and a form of knowledge required in an epidemic context is deemed necessary in reducing the possibility of infection. Yet the literature, which approaches risk construction from a binary perspective (subjective vs objective knowledge) is inconclusive on the knowledge-risk association. I argue that the epidemic context is complex and riddled with diverse forms of information which influences risk construction. I explore risk construction in the epidemic context by conceptualizing risk as an epistemic construct and examine its construction to understand the social processes by which it is constructed and identify the constitutive elements that influence its construction. Using qualitative interviews and comparing three locations (Accra, Hohoe and Ewusiejo) in Ghana during the 2014-2016 Ebola epidemic in West Africa, I argue that the construction of risk as an epistemic construct is influenced by a combination of disease/networked knowledge and contextual factors (geographic location, government policies, absence of cases of Ebola infections, Ebola vaccine trials) triggered by the disease risk characteristics. These contextual factors, I suggest, shape the disease risk characteristics which amplify or attenuate people’s risk perception and the health behavior.

Committee Chair

Shrum, Wesley M.

Available for download on Sunday, October 29, 2028

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