Between the Living and Undead: How Zombie Cinema Reflects the Social Construction of Risk, the Anxious Self, and Disease Pandemic

Research paper by Robert Wonser, David Boyns

Indexed on: 14 Jun '16Published on: 14 Jun '16Published in: The Sociological Quarterly


The zombie film has become an important component of contemporary popular culture. The sociological nature of the themes addressed by these films reflect prominent social concerns, and lend themselves to sociological analysis as texts themselves. This article examines the zombie film genre, its history, predominant themes, and its illustration of sociological dynamics related to identity, collective behavior, disease, contagion, and the privileges that come from social inequality. Particular attention is placed on what the zombie films, themselves, can tell us about society and how they illustrate sociological principles. First, we examine the origins and history of zombie cinema. Next, we move to a discussion of the central narrative devices around which zombie films are organized. In particular, we focus on two narratives in zombie films: those that emphasize zombie possession; and those that focus on the sociological risks of zombie pandemics. The discussion then moves to an analysis of zombies as selves, and how zombie films express cultural anxieties about selfhood, loss of autonomy, and threats of de‐individualization. We then explore the roles of power and privilege in the social epidemiology of zombification, paying particular attention to how those who succumb to zombiedom illustrate the sociological dynamics of health disparities in the real world. Finally, the sociology of infectious disease is used to address how zombiedom correlates with real disease outbreaks, what we know about the social aspects of infectious disease transmission, and the sociology of pandemics.