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BY 4.0 license Open Access Published by De Gruyter Open Access May 28, 2021

Medical Populism and COVID-19 Testing

Kristin Hedges and Gideon Lasco


This paper uses the lens of medical populism to analyze the impact of biocommunicability on COVID-19 testing through a case study approach. The political efficacy of testing is traced through two mini-case studies: the Philippines and the United States. The case studies follow the approach of populism scholars in drawing from various sources that ‘render the populist style visible’ from the tweets and press releases of government officials to media reportage. Using the framework of medical populism, the case studies pay attention to the ways in which coronavirus testing figured in (1) simplification of the pandemic; (2) spectacularization of the crisis; (3) forging of divisions; and (4) invocation of knowledge claims. Identifying and critically analyzing how knowledge is generated is an essential step to recognizing the impact that political styles have on the COVID pandemic. The political actors in each case study have shaped knowledge of the epidemic, in the way they construct the idea of ‘testing’, and in how they mobilize testing as an ‘evidence-making practice’. Their actions shaped how the pandemic—as well as their responses—is measured. This framework contributes to public policy debates by providing evidence of the impact of medical populism on pandemic response efforts.


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Received: 2020-08-28
Accepted: 2021-04-30
Published Online: 2021-05-28

© 2021 Kristin Hedges et al., published by De Gruyter

This work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

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