May 5, 2008

Transmission

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These days, a good number of academics are treating social issues with a biological eye. From Richard Dawkins's identification of ideas as memes to Malcolm Gladwell's categorization of instrumental people into Connectors, Mavens, and Salespeople, it seems that the biological analogy is quite popular.

The New York Times this weekend had an article in the Sunday magazine about using the biological approach to stop inner city violence. For Asian American activists, maybe there are lessons to be taken from Slutkin's efforts and how ideas and habits spread.
As CeaseFire evolved, Slutkin says he started to realize how much it was drawing on his experiences fighting TB and AIDS. “Early intervention in TB is actually treatment of the most infectious people,” Slutkin told me recently. “They’re the ones who are infecting others. So treatment of the most infectious spreaders is the most effective strategy known and now accepted in the world.” And, he continued, you want to go after them with individuals who themselves were once either infectious spreaders or at high risk for the illness. In the case of violence, you use those who were once hard-core, once the most belligerent, once the most uncontrollable, once the angriest. They are the most convincing messengers. It’s why, for instance, Slutkin and his colleagues asked sex workers in Uganda and other nations to spread the word to other sex workers about safer sexual behavior. Then, Slutkin said, you train them, as you would paraprofessionals, as he and Gove did when they trained birth attendants to spot cholera in Somalia.

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