The Spatial Order of the Pandemic: COVID-19, Vaccine Production and unequal Immunity

Marian Burchardt (SFB 1199, Leipzig U), Maren Möhring (SFB 1199, Leipzig U), Caroline Meier zu Biesen (Leipzig U)

The weekly colloquium of the Collaborative Research Centre provides a forum for presentations by external guests as well as by members of the SFB 1199 within a tailored thematic framework. The format helps to create a common ground for discussion between guests, the Collaborative Research Centre, as well as the wider academic public.

This week, Caroline Meier zu Biesen, Maren Möhring and Marian Burchardt will present the outline of their project for the third funding phase of the SFB 1199.

The project examines the impact of the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic on global spatial orders in global health governance (GHG), particularly in the area of vaccine development, testing, and distribution. This project conceptualizes vaccine development (initiated in 2020) as a spatial strategy emerging as a medical technology intervention against corona virus. Corona vaccine development projects relate to the fact of the inevitable global interconnectedness of societies under the global condition. Thus, the high mobility of people not only creates the conditions for viruses and epidemics to cross borders. Global interconnectedness also makes it more difficult for individual states or alliances of states to act to systematically contain infectious diseases.

This project explores the dynamic (re)spatialization processes through which vaccine production and distribution have created unequal immunities against a backdrop of global economic inequalities. The guiding thesis of the research is that vaccine production

  1. is driven by continuities, particularly hegemonic structures of GHG and complex interactions between state and private sector actors and the spatial format of the nation-state
  2. is shaped by renationalization tendencies in the name of “biosecurity” on the one hand and location politics (“vaccine race”) on the other hand, with implications for globally unevenly distributed immunities
  3. can only be inadequately described with the binary spatial scheme global South/global North. Rather, new global linkages of expertise and vaccine production sites can be observed, potentially contributing to a lasting transformation of global spatial orders of GHG.

The project focuses on Germany and on the German American consortium BioNTech/Pfizer. The focus on Germany takes into account the fact that a considerable part of the basic research, production, and testing activities for COVID-19 vaccines are taking place in Germany. For BioNTech/Pfizer, strategic international cooperation and local networks are equally important levers in vaccine development. Taking the spatial entrepreneur BioNTech/Pfizer as an example and considering the spatial formats used by this actor, spatialization processes can thus be studied from an actor-centered perspective. In addition, numerous clinical trials testing the safety of COVID-19 vaccines have been institutionalized in German-speaking countries, providing new insights into the establishment of “experimental spaces.”

The session will be held in presence, but it is also possible to access it online. To join, please click the button below.

Biographical Note

Marian Burchardt (SFB 1199, Leipzig University, Germany)

Marian Burchardt is Professor of Sociology at Leipzig University. As a cultural sociologist, he is interested in how diversity shapes institutions and everyday life. His research engages with the sociology of knowledge, the sociology of religion, urban sociology, and theories of modernity, and draws on qualitative and ethnographic methods. He is especially interested in how notions of diversity influence social life and public space through nation-state regulations, law, and urban policy. He is the author of Regulating Difference: Religious Diversity and Nationhood in the Secular West (Rutgers UP, 2020) and Faith in the Time of AIDS: Religion, Biopolitics and Modernity in South Africa (Palgrave Macmillan 2015).

Maren Möhring (SFB 1199, Leipzig University, Germany)
Maren Möhring studied history and German literature in Hamburg and Dublin. She gained a PhD in history from the University Munich and a venia legendi in modern history from the University of Cologne. Her current research interests include the history of modern mass culture and the role of food and health in modern societies.

Caroline Meier zu Biesen (Leipzig University, Germany)

Caroline Meier zu Biesen is a scientific employee at the Lab Global Health at Leipzig University. Her research is guided by the question of how medical and health ideas and practices relate to each other anew in a global context. Her regional focus lies on Eastern Africa and India.