Purity and Danger

Exploring Relationships between Viral Othering and Racial-Ethnic and Religious Othering in a Time of Pandemic

Supported by funding from an Anneliese Maier Research Award, Alexander von Humboldt Foundation. Terms of purity and danger, sameness and otherness, that operate in the semantic frame of medicine and health (e.g., infection, contagion, foreign body, im/pure, un/clean, un/scathed, distance, quarantine, abject) are also common in contexts of social identity and difference, especially when projecting racial and ethnic otherness as threats to the integrity and wellbeing of social bodies. This project aims to develop a computational model using neural networks to explore possible relationships between the uses of such language in these two different frames. How might the prevalence of this language in the medical frame during the COVID-19 crisis relate to racist and xenophobic uses of it? Is an increase in the former leading to an increase in the latter? Will it do so in years to come?

Project team includes Justin Barber, Michael Hemenway, Timothy Beal, and Mark Decrane, who is participating with support from the undergraduate Coding Scholars program at CWRU.