A computer simulation of the structure of coronavirus imposed over an image of Earth.

Covid-19 in comparative perspective: varieties of pandemic politics

Profile photo of Stephen Hilgartner

We look forward to welcoming Stephen Hilgartner (Cornell University), who will give the SKAPE keynote lecture 2022/23 on Thursday 22 September. The lecture will be followed by a drinks reception.

Please see the bottom of the page for details on how to book a place for the lecture.

The lecture will provide an important discussion about comparative pandemic politics. It is hosted in collaboration with the Centre for Biomedicine, Self and Society, and the Science, Technology and Innovation Studies departmental seminar series at the University of Edinburgh.


This talk presents findings of the Comparative Covid Response (CompCoRe) project, a 16-country study led by Sheila Jasanoff and Stephen Hilgartner, with the participation of 60 researchers worldwide. National governments throughout the world treated the Covid-19 pandemic as an emergency, but societies responded in very different ways and experienced different consequences. The numbers of deaths per capita varied by orders of magnitude. Economic and political consequences were strikingly different. Some countries enacted policies with relatively little controversy, while others, experienced policy chaos. Explaining this variation is an important challenge, but none of the obvious metrics—such as GDP, prowess in biomedical science, or ranking by the Global Health Security Index—account for these differences. Our study shows that comparing how societies integrate technical expertise into decision-making provides an analytic starting point that yields useful insights. Modern societies have culturally specific ways of delegating authority, not only to political representatives but also to representatives of technical expertise. These patterns of delegation play an analogous role to a political constitution in that they allocate authority among the state, expertise, and citizens. Our study shows that national differences in these allocations affected societies’ ability to respond to the Covid pandemic in far-reaching ways. The findings also suggest useful directions for societal learning to enhance resilience.


Stephen Hilgartner is Frederic J. Whiton Professor of Science & Technology Studies at Cornell University. He studies the social dimensions and politics of contemporary and emerging science and technology, especially in the life sciences. His research focuses on situations in which scientific knowledge is implicated in establishing, contesting, and maintaining social order — a theme he has examined in studies of expertise, property formation, risk disputes, and biotechnology. To learn more about Professor Hilgartner’s research and recent publications, please visit his institutional profile here.


This SKAPE lecture will take place in person at the University of Edinburgh in the Violet Laidlaw Room (6.02), Chrystal Macmillan Building. The lecture will be followed by a drinks reception in the foyer. To attend the lecture, you must please book a ticket via Eventbrite here.

Cover photo credit: Animation via Videezy.


Sep 22 2022


5:00 pm - 6:30 pm


University of Edinburgh - Violet Laidlaw Room
Violet Laidlaw Room, 6th Floor, Chrystal Macmillan Building