Anthropology Magazine

The Problem With Abstract Threats

The Problem With Abstract Threats

In this episode, anthropologists consider what the novel coronavirus reveals about how humans negotiate crises that seem too big to be real.

Everyone seems to have a story about the moment when the novel coronavirus pandemic stopped being an abstract problem “somewhere out there” and started being a very real and personal threat. In this episode of the SAPIENS podcast, hosts Jen Shannon and Chip Colwell interrogate the problem with abstract threats with the help of anthropologists Hugh Gusterson and Kristin Hedges. In closing, Steve Nash returns to discuss a different abstract concept: time.


  • Kristin Hedges is an applied medical anthropologist who studies how understanding cultural constructions of illness is essential for successful health intervention campaigns. She is an assistant professor at Grand Valley State University in Allendale, Michigan. Follow her on Twitter @kristinhedges6 and read her recent piece at SAPIENS magazine: “The Symbolic Power of Virus Testing.
  • Steve Nash is a historian of science, an archaeologist at the Denver Museum of Nature & Science, and a columnist for SAPIENS. Follow him on Twitter @nash_dr, check out his column Curiosities, and read the column post he mentions in this episode: “The Long Count.”

Read a transcript of this episode here.