This article explores the politics of knowledge involved in understanding and responding to epidemics in an era of global health governance and biosecurity. It develops and applies an approach focused on how multiple, competing narratives about epidemics are constructed, mobilized and interact, and selectively justify pathways of intervention and response.

A detailed ethnographic case study of national and local responses to H1N1 influenza, so-called swine flu, in Egypt reveals how global narratives were reworked by powerful actors in a particular political context, suppressing and delegitimizing the alternative narratives of the Zabaleen (Coptic Christian) people whose lives and livelihoods centered on raising pigs and working with them to control urban waste. The case study illustrates important ways in which geographies and politics of blame around epidemics emerge and are justified, their political contexts and consequences, and how they may feed back to shape the dynamics of disease itself.