A deadly virus that anyone can carry and spread without being noticed. The outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic more than a year ago was a shock to many, certainly a completely new experience. But how do you understand a pandemic, how can you accept such encroachment on private and public life if you have never experienced it? Many media have used it to compare the current situation with scenes from books and films. Sina Farzin and Fabian Hempel from the Federal Armed Forces University in Neubiberg are now taking a closer look at this aspect with colleagues from the Carl von Ossietzky University of Oldenburg in the research project “Epidemiology meets”.
General sociology professors and research assistants examine how the major journalistic media, particularly in the features section and science section, use these references to fiction to describe, understand, and explain pandemics. Oldenburg researchers focus on social media. “Some very old works, such as ‘The Plague’ by Albert Camus, were referred to to understand the crisis,” Farzin says. Specifically, he and Hempel collect data from eight German and English-language newspapers and magazines. Among them would be “Sudetsche Zeitung” and “Zeit” as well as “Guardian” and “Economist”. “We don’t just want to investigate whether reports in newspapers refer to cultural products like novels, films or paintings,” says Hempel. So are the references merely part of the description of the epidemic or are they rooted in the logic to explain aspects of the epidemic. The project is still at the beginning, starting in April. Hempel is still in the process of compiling the data and analyzing it for relevant references.
But he has already discovered some exciting passages in the text. For example, in an interview in “Spiegel”, the interviewing medical historian Frank Snowden confirmed the journalist’s question whether he saw a parallel to the plague. For example, that the super-rich are now fleeing Covid-19 to secluded places, as in Italian poet Giovanni Boccaccio’s famous work ‘Decamerone’, ten young men escaping the plague in a country house at the gates of Florence are,” he responds to a text by sociologist Rudolf Stichwe in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, which uses the epithet “Die Budenbrücke”, which suggests that around 1900 doctors were seen as supporting actors, indicating That’s “how the therapist’s ability to function has expanded,” Hempel says.
He draws the first cautious conclusions from his analyses. “So far, I have found references to cultural fiction, mainly from philosophers, social scientists, and journalists, who are at home in the features section,” says the scientist. But he is equally confident that he will find references in texts that can be assigned to science journalism. Furthermore, it has been shown so far that science is relied upon in texts to obtain knowledge, and is not viewed with suspicion. Farzin also believes that he will find texts in which the author himself deals with the crisis by writing. For example, she cites a blog by French-Moroccan writer Leila Slimani, which she writes from her country home and which is not only admired. “He closes the circle again. It’s similar to the situation in the ‘Decameron’ story,” she says.
Scientists aren’t concerned with perfection, rather, they want to represent the “big picture,” Hempel says. This is also to do with the fact that the project is scheduled to run for only one year. It takes place within the framework of the multi-year international and interdisciplinary research program “Fiction Meets Science”, to examine the over-representation of the natural sciences in the literature.
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