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Geographic Charisma and the Potential Energy of Ebola

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1488-1502
Number of pages15
JournalSociology of Health and Illness
Issue number8
Early online date2 Jun 2019
Publication statusPublished - 1 Nov 2019


King's Authors


The Ebola virus is unparalleled in its charismatic ability to ignite fear, anxiety and disgust at a scale grossly disproportionate to the number of lives it claims. As an archetypal ‘Emerging Infectious Disease’ (EID), this designation and the politics that have encircled it have provided Ebola with a conceptual space in which epidemiology and geography to splice together in the genesis and maintenance of its charismatic valence. Even before the West African outbreak of 2013–2016, Ebola was an ‘exceptional’ and ‘master status’ disease around which media attention mobilised to an unparalleled degree and effect. This paper argues that even if never directly conceptualised as such, Ebola is uniquely charismatic among EIDs and, more, this charisma can be understood geographically. To do so, the paper proceeds in three parts to explore how Ebola's geographic charisma emerges from: (i) it being fixed ‘in place’ as something innately African; (ii) fears about the virus moving ‘out of place’ and (iii) its ‘potential energy’ or the persistent unease generated by the uncertainty of when and where the virus's potential geographies will become actual.

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