Some considerations concerning the challenge of incorporating social variables into epidemiological models of infectious disease transmission.
Barnett T., Fournié G., Gupta S., Seeley J.
Incorporation of 'social' variables into epidemiological models remains a challenge. Too much detail and models cease to be useful; too little and the very notion of infection - a highly social process in human populations - may be considered with little reference to the social. The French sociologist Émile Durkheim proposed that the scientific study of society required identification and study of 'social currents'. Such 'currents' are what we might today describe as 'emergent properties', specifiable variables appertaining to individuals and groups, which represent the perspectives of social actors as they experience the environment in which they live their lives. Here we review the ways in which one particular emergent property, hope, relevant to a range of epidemiological situations, might be used in epidemiological modelling of infectious diseases in human populations. We also indicate how such an approach might be extended to include a range of other potential emergent properties to represent complex social and economic processes bearing on infectious disease transmission.