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The printed press's representations of the 2005-2007 chikungunya epidemic in Réunion: political polemics and (post)colonial disease
University of Bergen. (Department of archaeology, history, cultural studies and religion)
2012 (English)In: Journal of African Media Studies, ISSN 2040-199X, Vol. 4, no 2, 227-242 p.Article in journal (Refereed) Published
Abstract [en]

From 2005 to 2007 the French overseas department and Indian Ocean island of Réunion experienced for the first time ever an epidemic of chikungunya. Chikungunya is a vector-spread disease by mosquitoes that leads to painful rheumatic symptoms, and infected approximately one-third of the island’s population of approximately 802,000 inhabitants. This article is based upon a discourse analysis of text and images of 111 articles on chikungunya in Réunion’s two main newspapers. During the epidemic the Réunionese printed press functioned as a provider of information, and an instigator of political polemics. The newspapers’ criticism responded to ‘orientalist’ representations of chikungunya within national press – and officialdom, but also reflected local perceptions of neglect and abandonment by the French nation state. While taking issue with other studies of press coverage of the outbreak, however, I argue that the polemics illustrate historical Réunionese geopolitical identifications with France, instead of postcolonial opposition.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Intellect Ltd., 2012. Vol. 4, no 2, 227-242 p.
Keyword [en]
Réunion Island, chikungunya epidemi, printed press, political polemics, geopolitics, postcolonialism
National Category
Social Sciences Media and Communications
URN: urn:nbn:se:umu:diva-83968DOI: 10.1386/jams.4.2.227_1OAI: diva2:678248
Available from: 2013-12-11 Created: 2013-12-11 Last updated: 2014-03-19Bibliographically approved
In thesis
1. Otherness and disease in Reunion: The politicisation of the 2005 to 2007 chikungunya epidemic
Open this publication in new window or tab >>Otherness and disease in Reunion: The politicisation of the 2005 to 2007 chikungunya epidemic
2013 (English)Doctoral thesis, comprehensive summary (Other academic)
Abstract [en]

In this dissertation I investigate how decolonisation through inclusion instead of independence has affected processes of othering, and reactions to being othered. By othering I mean discursive colonial practices described by post-colonial theories, in which racial and cultural difference is produced as inferior vis-à-vis the “superior” West. The study is based upon a total of eight months of anthropological fieldwork and qualitative research in the French overseas department and Indian Ocean island of Réunion. I focus on the influence of processes of othering on conceptualisations and expectations of (equal) French citizenship, and experiences with disease on the island. This is discussed via the empirical case of Réunion’s first epidemic of the vector-borne disease of chikungunya, which infected almost 30 per cent of the island’s total population of 802,000 inhabitants with painful symptoms of arthralgia from 2005 to 2007. I concentrate particularly on the politicisation of the epidemic as indicated by the rise of polemics and frictions between the local printed press and the Réunionese population on one side, and the public health authorities and the French government on the other. I argue that the controversy was brought on by local reactions against discourses and practices of otherness within French officialdom, for example the late and insufficient preventative intervention by the government and public health authorities.

My main argument is that departmentalisation has not erased processes of othering in Réunion, but that it has influenced its manifestations. To discuss this, I draw upon the feminist philosopher Luce Irigaray’s ontological approach to sexual difference and gendered otherness by applying her perspectives to explore processes of post-colonial othering. Within Western philosophy the other is produced in opposition to the initial concept of the same. While post-colonial theories primarily conceive of othering as a process to establish difference in order to justify subordination of the other, Irigaray argues that otherness emerges from a Eurocentric expectation of sameness, i.e. similarity. According to Irigaray, otherness is the result of the dominance of a Western philosophical oneness-model upon our ways of thinking and relating to the world, and is produced as the other is absorbed into the same. As a result the other is prevented from establishing independent and equal subjectivity. Within this line of thinking, otherness is not understood to be primarily produced through a manifestation of difference as indicated by post-colonial theories, but is rather a result of its inclusion into the same. I propose this as a useful approach to the discussion of how processes of othering may play out in a post-colonial situation characterised by inclusion instead of separation, as in the case of Réunion’s departmentalisation. Furthermore, I suggest that the politicisation of the chikungunya epidemic was largely caused by failed Réunionese expectations of equal citizenship.

The question of otherness is investigated in the introduction to this dissertation, and in four separate articles. While the introduction provides a historical, theoretical and methodological framework for the reading of the articles, the first article, “The 2005–2007 chikungunya epidemic in Réunion: ambiguous etiologies, memories and meaning-making” (Jansen 2013), focuses on how confrontations with otherness led to a local questioning of the biomedical aetiology of chikungunya. In order to make sense of the new disease on the island, people often chose to rely on alternative explanations regarding its transmission. In the second article, “The printed press’s representations of the 2005–2007 chikungunya epidemic in Réunion: political polemics and (post)colonial disease” (Jansen 2012), I discuss how the local printed press contributed to the instigation of the political polemics against the French government and the public health authorities. Their criticism was largely brought on as a reaction against representations of Réunionese otherness within the national press and officialdom, but also reflected local perceptions of desertion by the French nation state. The article is based upon an analysis of 111 articles on chikungunya during the epidemic in Réunion’s two main newspapers. In the third article, “Defending the body” (Jansen 2010), I focus on Irigaray’s perspectives on otherness as produced through inclusion and sameness, rather than through an establishment of difference. By comparing Irigaray’s approach to otherness with Simone de Beauvoir’s arguably phenomenological perspectives, the article explores how processes of othering have diverging effects on various bodies, which may influence experiences with illness. The article provides a theoretical backdrop for the reading of the dissertation. In article four, “Otherness as sameness: an Irigarayan perspective on decolonisation through inclusion in French Réunion” (submitted), I use Irigaray’s approach as a theoretical tool to explore how departmentalisation as a strategy for decolonisation has affected processes of othering and reactions to being othered in Réunion. The objective of the article is to acknowledge local struggles for equal citizenship as a strategic move towards the island’s decolonisation along the lines of struggles for emancipation. Moreover, I discuss how political events during the post-departmentalisation years may be described as political dynamics associated with post-colonial and neo-colonial societies simultaneously.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Bergen: University of Bergen, 2013
National Category
Humanities Cultural Studies
urn:nbn:se:umu:diva-83976 (URN)
Public defence
2013-09-24, Auditorium 2, The Faculty of Law, Bergen, 09:30 (English)
Available from: 2014-01-21 Created: 2013-12-11 Last updated: 2014-02-04Bibliographically approved

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