Segmenting communities as public health strategy : a view from the social sciences and humanities

Ganguli-Mitra, Agomoni and Young, Ingrid and Engelmann, Lukas and Harper, Ian and McCormack, Donna and Marsland, Rebecca and Segal, Lotte Buch and Sethi, Nayha and Stewart, Ellen and Tichenor, Marlee (2020) Segmenting communities as public health strategy : a view from the social sciences and humanities. Wellcome Open Research, 5. 104. ISSN 2398-502X (

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On the 5th of May 2020, a group of modellers, epidemiologists and biomedical scientists from the University of Edinburgh proposed a "segmenting and shielding" approach to easing the lockdown in the UK over the coming months. Their proposal, which has been submitted to the government and since been discussed in the media, offers what appears to be a pragmatic solution out of the current lockdown. The approach identifies segments of the population as at-risk groups and outlines ways in which these remain shielded, while 'healthy' segments would be allowed to return to some kind of normality, gradually, over several weeks. This proposal highlights how narrowly conceived scientific responses may result in unintended consequences and repeat harmful public health practices. As an interdisciplinary group of researchers from the humanities and social sciences at the University of Edinburgh, we respond to this proposal and highlight how ethics, history, medical sociology and anthropology - as well as disability studies and decolonial approaches - offer critical engagement with such responses, and call for more creative and inclusive responses to public health crises.


Ganguli-Mitra, Agomoni, Young, Ingrid, Engelmann, Lukas, Harper, Ian, McCormack, Donna, Marsland, Rebecca, Segal, Lotte Buch, Sethi, Nayha, Stewart, Ellen ORCID logoORCID: and Tichenor, Marlee;