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During the first wave of the coronavirus pandemic in 2020, experts and policymakers mobilised various slogans to compel the public to help defeat COVID-19. By comparing Brazil, the United Kingdom and the United States, this study shows how dominant sociotechnical imaginaries tied to the slogans were mobilised. We argue that the blind spots of these dominant sociotechnical imaginaries contributed to subversive sociotechnical imaginaries and made room for COVID-19 scepticism. In Brazil, calls to ‘take care of yourself’ contributed to a sceptical stance that individualised responsibility. In the United Kingdom, calls to ‘protect the NHS’ contributed to sceptical accusations of whataboutism and the neglect of other vital social institutions during the lockdown. In the United States, calls to ‘flatten the curve’ contributed to scepticism that challenged public health interventions through discourses of individual choice and freedom. By paying attention to the blind spots of dominant sociotechnical imaginaries, we argue that experts and policymakers should be sensitive to how public health messaging may have feedback effects that detract from the initial aims of interventions.



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