In his essay for our “Covid-19 and the Social Sciences” series, Evan Lieberman writes about the influence of social diversity on the politics of infectious disease control. How does the articulation of ethnic, racial, and national boundaries impede effective policy responses? Using the AIDS crisis as a comparative case-study, Lieberman asks if data that emphasize ethnic, racial, and national categories—while they may be intended to highlight and mitigate disparities—have the potential to stigmatize vulnerable groups during a pandemic. He calls on social science to investigate how such categories influence risk perceptions, citizen behaviors, and government responses.
Evan Lieberman is the Total Professor of Political Science and Contemporary Africa at MIT. Previously, Lieberman was a member of the faculty at Princeton University, a Robert Wood Johnson Health Policy Scholar at Yale University, and an Honorary Research Associate at the University of Cape Town. Lieberman’s research is primarily concerned with understanding the causes and consequences of ethnic/racial identification and conflict; the role of democratic institutions in multi-ethnic societies; and the development of state capacities. He is the author of two scholarly books, Race and Regionalism in the Politics of Taxation (Cambridge University Press, 2003) and Boundaries of Contagion: How Ethnic Politics Have Shaped Government Responses to AIDS (Princeton University Press, 2009). Lieberman is vice president of the Friends of the Legal Resources Centre Foundation, and is a member of the E-GAP network. He serves on the editorial boards of the American Political Science Review and World Politics. He is founding director of the Global Diversity Lab at MIT, nonresident fellow of the Democratic Governance Program of the Ash Center at the Harvard Kennedy School, and a fellow in the Boundaries, Membership & Belonging research group of the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research.