Motile outbreaks: Situating Ebola resurgences in human motilities in Guinea and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), 2023-26

together with F. Le Marcis (ENS Lyon)

The main objective of our project is to explore the resurgence of Ebola outbreaks in Guinea in 2021 and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) in 2021 by studying human motilities. These resurgences are exceptional events within the exceptional history of deadly infectious disease outbreaks. They are linked to the largest Ebola epidemics in history, namely the West Africa Ebola outbreak from 2014 and 2016 and the tenth Ebola outbreak in the Eastern DRC from 2018-2020. The discovery that these unprecedented outbreaks can resurge months and years after they had been declared over is considered to mark a new paradigm in Ebola research, which amongst many other things has been grappling with the question how to track the mobility of viruses bound up with human and nonhuman actors. In this field of Ebola research, as our project maintains, resurgences show that we need to develop new analytical approaches to generate new questions about the mobility of humans that may have not been asked in past outbreaks but need to be investigated in future outbreaks. We aim to develop a motility approach to study empirically and conceptually how Ebola outbreaks resurge in mobile populations. We will use the concept of motility to develop an anthropological approach to resurgences, which situates the mobility of humans and viruses in the analysis of people’s capacities to be mobile. This motility approach is expected to provide a solid and innovative approach to explore how the anthropological study of mobility, care, and kinship can be brought together to explore the resurgence of Ebola outbreaks. Our motility approach highlights that we need to move beyond the analysis of different types of movement (bodily movement, motorized movement, virtual movement, etc.) to trail the origin of outbreaks and project the spread of an outbreak. Rather we need to explore how people make use of the means of mobility in everyday life (bodies, taxis, internet, etc.) to understand how viruses can travel with humans along socially, historically, and ecologically defined trajectories. More specifically, we aim to explore people’s capacities to be mobile reflects the functioning of spatially and temporally extended networks of care and support. We will explore how human mobilities leading to the resurgence of Ebola outbreaks are situated in the wider networks of care and support connecting people across time and space. Finally, our research project wants to foster transdisciplinary research on the ecologies of Ebola resurgences and produce evidence relevant to the managing of future epidemics. 

This project is funded by the German Research Foundation and the French National Research Agency for 2023-2026.

Remnants of Ebola treatment after the tenth Ebola epidemic in DRC
Remnants of Ebola treatment after the tenth Ebola epidemic in DRC
Kennedy Muhindo Wema

Research Group Medical Anthropology

The picture shows a middle-aged Asian or Asian seen male researcher with slight beard, shoulder-length hair and black-rimmed glasses.
AG Medical Anthropology

Dr. Sung-Joon (Song) Park

Telefon: +49 40 285380 711


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