1st Edition

COVID Semiotics Magical Thinking and the Management of Meaning

Edited By Mark Allen Peterson, Colleen Cotter Copyright 2025
    192 Pages 40 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    192 Pages 40 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    This book examines how people around the world have articulated and shaped their experiences of COVID-19 through a sociolinguistic phenomenon known as magical thinking. Using case studies from throughout the world–China, Egypt, Europe, Jordan, Thailand, East Jerusalem, the UK, and the US–this volume looks at how people managed ambiguity and uncertainty, risk, and social isolation by viewing their experiences of the pandemic as other than, or alongside, those presented by voices and images representing scientifically derived knowledge. Each chapter in the volume introduces the reader to a core semiotic concept and shows how it can be used to analyze and unpack a specific signifying practice. In the conclusion, the several concepts from the chapters–ideological positioning, entextualization and recontextualization, double-voicing, discursive grafting, imaging, and contagion–are revisited and synthesized, in order to demonstrate that semiotics is useful not only in ethnographic studies of various “others” and of various "crises," but also in explaining the quotidian experiences of everyday life. Ultimately, this book reveals that COVID-related magical thinking practices are often as “contagious” as the virus they reimagine, spreading through social media and resulting in such social phenomena as viral videos promoting and rejecting public health practices, the first-lockdown stockpiling of toilet paper and hand sanitizer, resistance to public health recommendations, anti-vax rhetoric, and competing interpretations of emerging public health data. This book not only represents cutting-edge research in the field, but it also provides students of anthropology, linguistics, media, and communication with the vocabulary and conceptual framework to understand the human experience of the COVID-19 pandemic.

    Introduction: COVID-19, Semiotics and Magical Thinking

    Mark Allen Peterson and Colleen Cotter


    Chapter One. “Culling the Herd”: Discourses of Covid-19 Denial AMong the Irish at Home and Abroad.

    E. Moore Quinn 


    Chapter Two. “Crown Jesus, not the virus!”: COVID denial and rightwing nationalist populism in Poland

    Dominika Baran 


    Chapter Three. Covid-19 and the Middle East: Social media analysis across political imaginaries in 3 countries.

    Camelia Suleiman with Ayman Mohammed and Amr Madi


    Chapter Four. The use of memes in communication about COVID-19 in a Chinese online community.

    Songyan Du and Adrian Yip 


    Chapter Five. My Body My Choice: Magical Thinking and Discourses of Bodily Autonomy in Anti-Mask Rhetoric.

    Louis Strange 


    Chapter Six. Signs of reassurance and collective responsibility in English public retail space.

    Colleen Cotter and Matilda Vokes 


    Conclusion: Semiotics in the Classroom and Beyond

    Mark Allen Peterson and Judith Pine



    Mark Allen Peterson is Professor of Anthropology and Global and Intercultural Studies at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio. His work focuses on media, consumption, and globalization. He has done fieldwork in Egypt, India, and the United States.

    Colleen Cotter is Professor of Media Linguistics at Queen Mary University of London. Her research areas include news media language, endangered languages (Irish), US/UK newsroom ethnography, and the performative dimensions of public messaging and language style across modalities.