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The Political Life of an Epidemic
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Book description

Zimbabwe's catastrophic cholera outbreak of 2008–9 saw an unprecedented number of people affected, with 100,000 cases and nearly 5,000 deaths. Cholera, however, was much more than a public health crisis: it represented the nadir of the country's deepening political and economic crisis of 2008. This study focuses on the political life of the cholera epidemic, tracing the historical origins of the outbreak, examining the social pattern of its unfolding and impact, analysing the institutional and communal responses to the disease, and marking the effects of its aftermath. Across different social and institutional settings, competing interpretations and experiences of the cholera epidemic created charged social and political debates. In his examination of these debates which surrounded the breakdown of Zimbabwe's public health infrastructure and failing bureaucratic order, the scope and limitations of disaster relief, and the country's profound levels of livelihood poverty and social inequality, Simukai Chigudu reveals how this epidemic of a preventable disease had profound implications for political institutions and citizenship in Zimbabwe.


'Chigudu has captured perfectly the political trajectory of a tragedy that formed not only political discourse but political subjectivities - reflected in the rich testimonies he has gathered. It is a book rich in its detail, ultimately bleak, and helps us understand the political condition of Zimbabwe.'

Stephen Chan - School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London

'This compelling book offers important insights into the complex and often disturbing relationship between politics, public health, humanitarianism, state-making and citizen-making. With narrative eloquence that reinforces both its analytical strength and political relevance, it makes a critical contribution to multiple academic and policy fields.'

Amanda Hammar - University of Copenhagen

'Written with passion, Chigudu powerfully conveys the lived experience of disease, recognises both the impact and limits of humanitarian efforts, and weaves this into a compelling account of state transformation and the struggle for substantive citizenship in Zimbabwe. It should be required reading across the medical and social sciences.'

JoAnn McGregor - University of Sussex

'Like all first-rate studies of epidemics, Chigudu's book uses a story of contagion to meditate on a host of critical questions - about political power, about cities, about public institutions, about humanitarianism. This arresting, superbly written book will be of great interest to scholars across the social sciences.'

Jonny Steinberg - University of Oxford

'Chigudu’s dissection of the historical, political and economic dimensions of a Zimbabwean public health crisis is clinical in its precision and profoundly disturbing. It is a devastating account of an epidemic, a sophisticated analysis of the political economy of Zimbabwe and of the shortcomings of international humanitarian aid.'

Megan Vaughan - University College London

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  • 1 - The Making of Urban (Dis)Order
    pp 35-62
  • Situating the Cholera Outbreak in Historical Perspective


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