Undergraduate Modules: POL3139 - Pandemics and panics: health, security and global politics

Module Code

POL 3139

Module Title

Pandemics and panics: health, security and global politics


Level 3


Semester 2 (Spring)


20 credits

Taught by:

Dr Simon Rushton

Module Description:

In today's globalized world, infectious diseases and other health issues have increasingly come to be seen as security threats - a shift that has challenged traditional notions of 'security’ and has had dramatic implications for the ways in which health and illness are addressed by national governments and international organizations.

This module aims to provide students with an understanding of the politics of health security, locating health within the various contemporary approaches to Security Studies (including state-centric and human security-based approaches); identifying the types of health issue that have come to be seen as security threats (including pandemic disease, AIDS, biological weapons and cutting-edge life science research); and critically examining national and international policy responses to them.

The module requires students to engage with the politics and ethics of securitizing health, weighing the costs and benefits of addressing diseases in security terms. Does securitization make us safer? Does it help to draw much-needed attention and resources to neglected health issues? Or should we be worried about the potential implications securitization has for human rights, civil liberties and global justice?

Module Aims:

By the end of this module, a candidate will be able to:

  • Display an understanding of the contemporary politics of health security, including the ability to identify and discuss the range of health issues that have most commonly come to be seen as security threats.
  • Display an understanding of the policy implications of treating health as a security issue and a knowledge of national and international policy responses to health security threats.
  • Contextualise health and disease within contemporary approaches to Security Studies and in turn apply those approaches to the analysis of health threats.
  • Demonstrate the ability to critically analyse the securitization of health, including the ability to assess the arguments for and again addressing health in security terms.
  • Show appropriate cognitive, communicative and transferable skills, including the understanding of complex concepts and theories, exercising critical judgement, making effective oral presentations (individually or as part of a group), and demonstrating the capacity for independent learning.

This module also equips students with a range of important transferrable skills, which are vital in terms of employability, including working independently and as part of a team; managing a varied workload; assimilating and synthesising multiple data sources; constructing coherent arguments; and preparing written reports and verbal presentations.

Module Schedule:

1 Disease and the state in historical perspective
2 Disease as a national and international security threat
3 Health and human security
4 Fear of the flu: Pandemics and global health security
5 Africa on the brink? AIDS, the military and state stability
6 Bioterrorism and biological weapons: Germs, arms control and the Global War on Terror
7 Life science research: promise or peril?
8 Health, risk and policymaking: preparedness or panic?
9 Surveillance, quarantine, victimisation: health security, human rights and civil liberties
10 What are we missing? Securitization and the distortion of the global health agenda
11 Securitizing health: the pros and the cons

Teaching Methods:

  • 11 * 2 hour seminars


  • 2 * 3000 word essays (50% each)

Resources Available:

  • Individual feedback and guidance sessions with module tutors.
  • Detailed 20-30 page module handbook
  • Dedicated module intranet site.
  • Extensive library materials, including a wide variety of electronic and digitised resources.

Opportunities for Further Study:

There is also the opportunity to deepen your knowledge by undertaking a supervised research project module an agreed topic arising out of work done on POL 3139 Pandemics and panics. Students meet with their tutor individually for tailored one-to-one supervision and tuition, which will enable them to undertake research and be assessed on the basis of a 7,000 word project.

To find out more about the research project modules on offer, click here

Indicative Reading:

Bashford, A. (ed.) (2006) Medicine at the Border: Disease, Globalization and Security, 1850 to the Present. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.

Brower, J. and Chalk, P. (200) The Global Threat of Reemerging Infectious Diseases: Reconciling U.S. National Security and Public Health Policy. Washington, DC: RAND Corp.

Elbe, S. (2010) Security and Global Health. Cambridge: Polity.

Enemark, C. and Selgelid, M.J. (eds.). (2012) Ethics and Security Aspects of Infectious Disease Control. Farnham: Ashgate.

Farmer, P. (2003) Pathologies of Power: Health, Human Rights and the New War on the Poor. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Fidler, D.P. and Gostin, L. (2008) Biosecurity in the Global Age: Biological Weapons, Public Health and the Rule of Law. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.

Garrett, L. (1996) The Coming Plague: Newly Emerging Diseases in a World Out of Balance. London: Penguin.

Lakoff, A. and Collier S.J. (eds.). (2008) Biosecurity Interventions: Global Health and Security in Question. New York: Columbia University Press.

McInnes, C. and & Lee, K. (2012) Global Health and International Relations. Cambridge: Polity.

Price-Smith, A.T. (2009) Contagion and Chaos: Disease, Ecology and National Security in the Era of Globalization. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

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