Espacios. Vol. 35 (Nº 5) Año 2014. Pág. 13

Proposal of a Debate on Science and Power Relations in World War Z

Proposta de um debate sobre ciência e relações de poder em World War Z

Rafael Fernandes de MESQUITA 1, Laelson Rochelle Milanês SOUSA, Fátima Regina Ney MATOS, Abigail Ferreira MILEN

Recibido: 04/03/14 • Aprobado: 22/04/14


Discuss the power relations in the scientific field is an arduous task as the first emerges without clear signs of its existence and can meddle among men without being noticed . The theoretical and empirical purpose of this article is to analyze the power relationships that intertwine the field of science and its social actors from the observational study in film language of the movie World War Z. The film portrays a fictional story, but it also approaches reality by presenting how the history of mankind may be modified by natural phenomena and how science and technology are key pieces in this evolutionary transition. The main conclusions of the study are the continuing need to question the scientific field, since proposing questions can contribute to the advancement of science and the perceived difficulty of implementing these questions by those who have no monopoly of scientific authority.
Keywords: Science. Power Relations. Observational Study.

Discutir as relações de poder no campo científico é tarefa árdua à medida que o poder emerge sem manifestações claras de sua existência e pode imiscuir-se entre os homens sem ser percebido. O propósito deste artigo, de caráter teórico-empírico, é analisar as relações de poder que entremeiam o campo da ciência e de seus atores sociais a partir do estudo observacional em linguagem fílmica da película World War Z. O filme retrata uma história ficcional, mas que se aproxima da realidade por apresentar como a história da humanidade pode ser modificada por fenômenos naturais e como a ciência e a tecnologia têm desempenho fundamental nesse processo de transição evolucionária. As principais conclusões do estudo são a percepção da dificuldade de realizar questionamentos por aqueles que não detêm o monopólio da autoridade científica e a necessidade contínua de questionar o campo científico, pois propor indagações pode contribuir para o avanço da ciência.
Palavras-chave: Ciência. Relações de Poder. Estudo Observacional.

Initial notes

The course of history of human civilization has always been marked by various technological developments with specific characteristics that changed the course of human development. Benedict (1982) believes that humans have a history marked by steady progress intrinsically related to scientific advances. In these revolutionary inset science also played a key role and development of new technologies set up milestone for some periods, such as the industrial revolution with the advent of steam engines and railways, the discovery of penicillin in medicine, the automotive vehicle and computers, to name just a few.

The production and mastery of these technologies might even be able to represent a particular social or professional class, as some of them were new forms of industrial production, logistics and distribution technologies that replaced livelihoods, making them qualitatively better, for example, curing diseases, or more attractive and profitable to trade. The monopoly of these findings can represent the authority of the group that rules over those who require their effects, as described Bourdieu (1983). Science, in these circumstances, is a medium that enables these advances, as the research, discovery or invention of technological artifacts can be casual, but it is by far derived from other knowledge before them and that made ??them possible.

Reflecting on the science and its methods is also evolve in its development fleshing out as what thinkers and objects of study represent to society can bring out aspects not yet revealed or even identified by those who have undertaken previous studies. Making it a scientific research is not synonymous with commitment to the distortion of the work of other scientists, but a way to fully investigate what may have been obscured by a lack of technological resources, time or interest, and also think the way how science is developed in different social contexts or even how society perceives the influences of its advances.

In this sense, understanding the power relations that permeate the scientific field and the society in general, the objective of this article is to analyze the relationships between power, science and the development of new technologies in the context of a fictional society that lives moments of evolutionary transition after several people are affected by a disease similar to rabies that turns most of the population into beings who quickly attack and infect other people, decimating much of the world's population.

The methodology used is a qualitative approach and as a method we use the observational study in film language, where the observer does not participate in the event. It is an observation of "second hand", because it is done through the images of the film. Therefore, the observation followed judicious steps: defining the research objective; the search and selection of sources of narrative data; the choice of the film; the overview of the filmic narrative, performed repeatedly; data decoupage; the reasoning and interpretation of theoretical data; and the building up of the final report.

The structure of the paper begins with a brief introduction, where there is the explanation of the purpose of the article and its relevance to theoretical study. Then, the following are the sections where there is a discussion of the science category and power relations in the scientific field, with their different approaches. Soon after, there is the methodological aspects section with clarification on the methodology used here, then the observational study, in which the film is analyzed in accordance with the thoughts presented in this paper. Finally, conclusions and references used are presented.

Science at Stake

According to Denzin and Lincoln (2006) the scientific field, despite its essentially normative character, is constantly permeated by tensions, contradictions and hesitations. An example that illustrates the thinking of authors can be expressed by permanent collision on the scientificity of soft sciences as opposed to the hard sciences. For the same reasons that make this permanent collision, determine a unique concept for what would be science or its period of emergence is complex, but the Greek civilization contributes strongly to its advent (RUSSEL, 2001), a strongly built objective basis for the human knowledge (SOLIS, 1990).

The dominant thinking that prevailed before the experiments of Galileo was grounded in Aristotelian logic, being shaken only when experimentation, mathematical logic and the use of more precise instruments for planetary observation were presented by Galileo Galilei (HUHNE, 1990). A paradigm shift as such causes changes in thinking and the viewing of the objects that engage scientists in their modus operandi; in addition to that, it caused suffering from severe criticism of those who are accustomed to normal science (KUHN, 2005). For Kuhn (2005), science is constructed from disruptions contrary to established positions, from testing what is understood by knowledge, from questioning.

The scientific activity, prior to using method or its definition, is developed across a problem. Questioning it also becomes a problem. So Gewandsznajder (2001) postulates that human attention, curiosity and reasoning are stimulated when some phenomenon does not occur in accordance with expectations, when we do not understand the phenomenon, or when traditional explanations do not respond to questions. Then, there is the need to seek scientific laws to explain the facts and test what was observed.

In the debate about what is or is not science, inquiries to common sense emerge. Scientific research is primarily engaged in the research and construction of reality and the territory of common sense knowledge can provide the most diverse quests. Questioning it and putting it to the test corresponds to do it science (POPPER, 1999). While religion based its arguments on revelation, science has bases by the methodology and ideology is founded on moral passion; arguments of common sense are not based on anything, but on life as a whole (GEERTZ, 1997).

The concern with the knowledge of reality has always been a constant for humans (MINAYO, 2007). However, what is known about this reality, in terms of common sense is an alleged phenomenon, as it is not analyzed because those who believe in its fundamentals are sure of its value and its validity, not needing to ask themselves about these aspects (GEERTZ, 1997).

But even science does not hold the only true reality and it should be questioned. The scientific field is a construction in order to solve the problems that arouse the interest of the researcher and science and its methods are forms of expression of this search, which may not be unique, not conclusive and not definitive (MINAYO, 2007). Crediting all truth to science is to make it common sense, it interferes values ??and validity foolproof, making it by its hegemony, a myth or a dogma, by claiming to be the single promoter and criterion of truth (MINAYO, 2007).

According to Gewandsznajder (2001), scientific truths are not permanent truths, but are statements that make sense because of studies that make it near to absolute truth, but never find it, something he calls the degree of likelihood. If it were not for the revolutions, in the sense introduced by Kuhn (2005), or leakage to the rules, in the proposition of Feyerabend (2007), perhaps the sciences were still, only, positivists, natural and with few choices of methods and techniques to validate their experiments. To Flick (2009), in early empirical research there were more issues to be studied than methods to use.

Science and Power

Questioning science is not a simple task. Questioning scientists or oppose their positions on normal science is even less simple. Matos et al. (2011) discuss the monopoly of scientific authority building on the story of Lorenzo, portrayed in the film Lorenzo's Oil, from 1992 and consider that scientists and their community are reluctant to accept those who do not belong to their group. As stated by Thompson (1995), there is domination when individuals or groups are empowered so that excludes others, regardless of the basis on which power is founded.

For Weber (1991), the concept of power has two dimensions and without them power relations do not occur: the domination and discipline. According to the author, the word power does not have a definite shape and the meanings of domination and discipline are more accurate. Domination is based on custom, materials and rational interests, emotional or rational reasons, and also the belief in legitimacy. This is not a rule in all the relations of power, it is also only a probability.

In society this power often is symbolic, in the concept of Bourdieu (1998). Symbols are used as a means of social integration (language, myth, art, among others). These are knowledge and communication machines and help to maintain the existing social order. Ideology is used in favor of the ruling class and makes it seem that your interests are, in fact, the common interest. It favors both the ruling class and the goals of those who produce it.

For Bobbio (1998), the power must be understood in a general and a specific way. More generally, power means the competence to act. And specifically, in social relationships, it means a man to influence the attitudes of another man. So, there are several power bases, elements identified as resources that in different contingencies would create power, such as capital, technical expertise, access to key contacts, uncertainty etc (HARDY; CLEGG, 2001). As Lukes (1980) argues that there is no need of disorder, conflict or revolutions in order to manifestation of power exist, its own absence would be the determination of a dominant to a dominated class.

Weber (2011) advocates the pursuit of scientific investigators as an act of passion, intelligence and intuition. In this case, the passion does not mean, as common sense views it, bias, carelessness or blind faith. But an enthusiasm, deeper and more legitimate than a passing joy pulsar could generate. From the moment that science and scientists admit to being the sole holders of the maximum and absolute truth, science surrenders to dogmatism and ceases to be science, because of the impossibility of refutation (POPPER, 1999).

Methodological procedures

When entering the field of social relations, representations and their meanings an approach is required from the researcher, one that enables a thorough investigation and, therefore, the qualitative research techniques would be more appropriate. As well as Minayo (2007)clarifies, this methodology is the one that is applied to the study of history, relationships, representations, beliefs, perceptions and opinions, product of interpretations that humans make about how they live, build their artifacts and themselves, feel and think.

This qualitative research approach provides research on a more thorough assessment of social phenomena by analyzing the facts in their natural settings, in the pursuit of their understanding or interpretation of the phenomena in terms of meanings people give to them (DENZIM; LINCOLN, 2006). The scenario is fictitious, in this study, but it tells stories involving human relationships, enabling its analysis and understanding.

Here the observer is a kind of spectator, along the lines of Patton (2002), who watches carefully to developed relationships and their meanings, which provides greater understanding as well as capturing the context in which people interact; also, being a non-participant observer, in which the researcher does not participate at all, as when he hides behind a screen that allows him to see the participants, but does not allow them to see him (BECKER, 1997).

In the view of Machado and Matos (2012) films take themselves a burden which transcends boundaries of didactic use, incorporating the role of narrative data sources, assuming the role of locus investigated with the possibility of repeated accesses and without limits, and through these data, making it as a reflection of reality which belongs to the phenomenon or object observed. For the implementation of research in film narratives, Machado and Matos (2012) propose some steps to achieve them, as they are: the definition of the problem or research objective; the search and selection of sources of narrative data; the choice of the film; the overview of the filmic narrative, performed repeatedly; decoupage data; the theoretical reasoning and data interpretation; and the building up of the final report.

This type of methodology has been used frequently for its great ability to influence in everyday reality; the films are being increasingly analyzed because of their use as research tools (MACHADO; BEZERRA, 2010), and they facilitate the construction of a link between theoretical constructs and practical reality (MATOS et al., 2011) and their relevance to the use of instruments of visual anthropology, through observational study in order to contribute to the processes of teaching and learning in the field of Management (LEITE; LEITE, 2010). Afterwards, the results of the proposed study are presented here.

Observational study

In this section a brief description of the scenes of the film, with clipping of major events and an analysis of the scenes in parallel with exposed theoretical basis is presented. The film World War Z (2013) was based on a literary novel that exposed social issues such as human uncertainty, the inadequacies of the State to manage the problem of disease spreading too fast and the human instincts for survival.

The narrative begins and several voices spread random news commonly presented in television news: bird flu outbreak, group of dolphins beaching on the edge of the beach, and the CO2 emission that had increased dramatically. The news is corroborated by the images that illustrate them, as they are being mixed together, showing only fragments of their stories that converge in pictures of apparently rabid animals.

After this introduction, the film changes its scenario and shows a family composed by an adult man, Gerry Lane, an adult woman, Karin Lane and two daughters playing on a bed family. All in one room and then in a living room watching a turned on TV while having breakfast. On the television, the images reference a war scenario.

The scene following the breakfast shows the family in a car while traffic is stopped and there is intense movement of people walking and helicopters flying. Gerry Lane tunes the radio and listens to the news that the World Health Organization reported cases of rabid people in twelve countries, with infestation started in Taiwan. Policemen on motorcycles move quickly between parked cars.

Everybody hear an explosion and several people start running in the streets. A truck runs over people and cars start leading the way ahead of Gerry, who follows them. The route of the family in the car ends after colliding with an ambulance and another car. The movement of people running in the streets is intensified and several of them are attacking. Gerry is then watching a woman who chases and bites a man in the crowd. After a counting of twelve seconds, the man has his face changed and starts to pursue other people.

Several people are attacking the streets. Gerry enters a vehicle, trailer type, with his family, suffering successive attacks by people who shoot at the car. As they seem to leave the city, small planes fly over the place, several explosions were heard and tanks shoot at people running amid the chaotic scene. On the road, Gerry gets a call from Thierry, a man who asks for help after claiming to have lost control of the city of New York and Boston, offering a helicopter to transport Gerry and his family.

The family goes into a supermarket in search of a remedy for asthma to one of the daughters of the couple. They take many supplies, among them batteries, ropes, food and beverage, and when they are leaving the grocery store they manage to escape the attacks upon entering the apartment of a family of Latin origin. By connecting the radio inside the apartment, Gerry listens: "authorities advise the following measures to the population: stay home as much as possible; stockpile food and water for up to two weeks." Bacon (1979) states that when the human intellect bases on a conviction, it converges to the meaning that attaches to his/her conviction. Here the authorities do not question the possibilities; they just ensure that others obey their command.

Gerry and his family, accompanied by a boy - the son of the family who welcomed them into their apartment - are transported on a helicopter to a navy base in the Atlantic Ocean, near the city of New York. Inside the base, the family stays in a bedroom and Gerry goes to a room where military research the causes and effects of the disease, besides the geographical aspects of its infestation.

"The question is: what is it?" A group of scientists argue in another room, while one of them, the physician Dr. Fassbach, claims it is a viral disease that can be controlled with the discovery of a vaccine. For Bourdieu (1989), to research is to look for, inquire, question the world, especially the one which surrounds the researcher. The first step of the social scientist activity is to put a critical view on reality, in order to deconstruct the social facts, from the breaking with common sense, understood as the places of vulgar existence.

There is mention of the word "zombie" and the group continues to discuss, mentioning the insanity of working with the hypothesis of the existence of zombies. Thierry indicates the origin of the first mention of the term, South Korea, and points out Dr. Fassbach as a hope to discover the origin of the disease. Gerry distrusts the ability of Dr. Fassbach because he is too young.

While chatting with Thierry, Gerry discovers that if he does not help Dr. Fassbach to discover the origin of the disease, escorting him to South Korea, his family will be compelled to leave the base and sent back to the infested city. He agrees to participate in the mission and its staff leaves the base in a plane traveling to the country named. During the trip, Gerry tells the doctor about the behavior he needs to have when they reach their destination. The authority of the team is him; he leads the group to get free space for the doctor to perform his search, since he has the authority of knowledge declared.

The plane lands after the pilot talks about the difficult access to the site and the staff goes out of the aircraft carefully for visual recognition of the area. Dr. Fassbach stumbles and dies before leaving the plane. The team enters a military base near the runway and Gerry talks with a soldier who is on site. Gerry questions about the origin of the records of the disease, first patients and characteristics of contagion. He takes the position of the deceased scientist while initiating research questions through these people who are on site.

After talking to a former federal agent, Gerry discovers that in some locations in Israel, it was discovered how to prevent attacks. Thus, he commands his team to travel to Jerusalem in search of new clues about the origin and cure for the disease. The group has difficulties in supplying the tickets and only Gerry and the pilot can leave the site.

In Jerusalem, there are walls and gates that prevent the passage of infected people and they allow entry to those who are not infected. Gerry discovers that the barriers built upon distrust of a man, with whom he had a conversation about what the word zombie represented in an official statement. It was his investigative impetus that clarified the real sense of the word and warned that several people were contaminated.

Gerry observes the crowd of people and buildings clustered near the walls. A woman connects a microphone and begins to sing. The noise she makes attracts the zombies that start to crowd in an attempt to scale the walls and invade the place. The man warns Gerry to change the focus of his research, forget patient zero and try to hide. Zombies invade the place and attack people.

Amid the invasion, Gerry realizes that the zombies do not attack an elderly. Several zombies pass through him without attacking him, as they attack and bite other people. A group of soldiers accompanying Gerry tries to evade the site and leave towards the plane and, once again, he realizes the zombies stop attacking a victim. This time, a bald teenager is not attacked and several zombies pass him and behave the same way.

A female soldier is attacked by a zombie and suffers a bite on her hand. Gerry quickly cuts the arm of the soldier who did not manifest symptoms of contamination. They two get into an airplane and leave. While he cleans and prepares the bandage of the wound for his companion, whose name is Segen, Gerry remember the people who were not attacked by zombies and contacts Thierry to indicate a place to produce vaccines and an airport close to this location for the plane to land.

An infected person starts an attack inside the plane and contaminates many others who start attacking others. After realizing that the situation was out of control, Gerry burst a grenade inside the aircraft, forcing the pilot to make an emergency landing. Segen and Gerry are the only who survive the fall and continue on foot to the Research Center of the World Health Organization, location indicated by Thierry for studies with vaccines.

Gerry Lane’s family is removed from the military base, as there is no contact with him since the accident with the plane and they believe that he died. The military feel his family is not essential to the work they are developing. Gerry faints in front of the lab and wakes up strapped to a stretcher. Two men interrogate him and, after talking with Thierry on the phone, they discover that Gerry is a UN special envoy and help him to develop his research.

The following snippet of dialogue between Gerry Lane and scientists working in the lab illustrates how is the development of his hypothesis, besides his project to test it.

Chief Scientist - What do you want from us?

Gerry Lane - The worst disease that you have.

Scientist 1 - What does he want?

Scientist 2 - A deadly pathogen.

Gerry Lane - With a high mortality rate, but curable.

Scientist 1 - So you want a bacteria and not a virus, I believe. Typhus? Meningitis, scarlet fever, spotted fever...

Scientist 2 - Sorry, but for what?

Chief Scientist - Mr. Lane believes we can fight the undead.

Scientist 1 – He would win points for originality if we had not tried it already. Viruses or bacteria need a living host to survive. A circulatory system. The question is simple, it cannot infect a dead person.

Gerry Lane – It is not for them. It is for us. These things have a weakness and that weakness is weakness. Our weakness. I witnessed people being spared. They were passed by unnoticed. Why? I think it's because they were sick. They were terminally ill and these things realized that. (WORLD WAR Z, 2013).

The stretch of speech also shows how an outsider, a person who had no knowledge or scientific authority in the area the lab scientists investigated can develop a hypothesis that had not been thought of by any of them. The emergence of new theories is generally preceded by pronounced professional insecurity, since it requires large-scale destruction of paradigms and major changes in the problems and techniques of normal science (KUHN, 2005). The course allows the scientific evolution. Without it there would be no development of knowledge and, consequently, no human development (POPPER, 1999). There is no clear example of scientific anarchy, as described by Feyerabend (2007), but an escape from methods and expectations proposed by normal science. The author critiques the hegemony of science as this does not produce results when it is assumed that the method is unique and uniform (FEYERABEND, 2007).

Gerry goes to the vaccines, viruses and bacteria storage ward, accompanied by the chief scientist and Segen. With difficult access, the path is full of zombies, but only Gerry Lane manages to reach the room and to return; he finds himself forced to use one of the pathogens in himself and test his hypothesis. While preparing injection with the disease to infect himself, in another room scientists debate whether his method is effective. For Bacon (1979) truth must be sought not only in what is considered true at the time, because that sure is fickle, but in nature and experience, which are eternal.

The test begins when Gerry, inside the locked room, injects the pathogen in his body. There's a zombie on the other side trying to get into the room to attack Jerry, waiting for the time of infection. After a few minutes of observation, Gerry opens the door and the zombie goes through it without attacking him. Scientists celebrate in another room and Gerry tries to go back, going through several zombies who ignore him on their way.


This isn’t the end. Not even close. (GERRY LANE, WORLD WAR Z, 2013).

The film portrays a fictional story, but it is very close to the many different evolutionary transitional phases of human history, because it illustrates the government's inability to deal with issues beyond the political boundaries of the administration; human frailty compared to epidemics of new diseases that arise each time. But also because it presents a characteristic survival instinct of the human race that is always looking for ways to escape the domination of the forces of nature, even if it also exceeds the limits of domination and authority of the scientific field.

The scientific authority is questioned in the filmic context because the scientist invited to participate in the study that aimed to end the disease dies from lack of preparation in hostile environments. Also, the one who did not hold scientific knowledge and knowledge derived from this authority observes and questions the normal science, causing a rupture and inaugurates new models to combat the epidemic and prevent its development.

It should be noted, finally, that the work is far from ending the discussion about science, its methods and approaches, or even the possibilities of interpretation of social reality in these respects, as the fictional reality presented also fits in this context. The theme, because of the complexity of its definition or delimitation of its field, should continue to be studied. Thus, the final intention of this work is to contribute to provocation of other studies on science, power relations in the scientific field and the deepening of this debate.


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