Borders in Times of Pandemic

Robin Celikates / April 9, 2020

A pandemic is never just a pandemic. Over the past few weeks, it has become evident how the spread and impact of the novel Coronavirus is profoundly shaped by social and political practices – such as tourism and travel – institutions – such as governments and their advisors – and structures – such as inequalities along the lines of class, race and gender. All of these are part of systems that are historically variable and subject to human agency. The international border regime is one such system. While it is an obvious truth that the virus’s spread does not respect any borders, governments across the world have resorted to closing their borders, more or less explicitly likening the threat of the virus to the “threat” of “uncontrolled” migration.

A New Episode of Erasure in the Settler Colony

Osama Tanous / April 9, 2020

Pandemics put pressure on the societies that they strike and make visible latent structures that might otherwise remain invisible. They provide a critical perspective for social analysis and reveal what really matters to a population, whom this population truly values. In occupied Palestine, the COVID-19 pandemic intervenes in both the history and the present of dispossession, disposability, ethnic cleansing, encampment, and confinement. The pandemic reveals this history of state violence and racism against the Palestinians and their erasure while also exacerbating these processes.

Covidian Catastrophes

M. NourbeSe Philip / April 9, 2020

This morning I sat at my kitchen table reading the newspaper as I usually do and suddenly tears came to my eyes. I was crying for us—humans. Not out of fear or panic, but as I read the toll this virus was exacting on the world, the only response was to weep—for us, for the world and all the miraculous and astonishing life it contains. There is no doubt that this virus is a corrective of some sort, and I’m hoping that out of this will come some changes that will relieve the intolerable pressure we humans have been putting on this beautiful planet of ours. Nor do I doubt that this is a game changer—what the world will look like after this is anyone’s guess.

Full Catastrophe Learning Amid COVID-19

Zimitri Erasmus / April 10, 2020

I returned from a conference in California, in the United States, on 9 March. Two days later, I was among the overly-privileged “overseas travellers” to “high risk countries” who might have brought the COVID-19 virus home. I self-isolated for fourteen days. I got tested. I am unsure whether the health professional inserted the swab far enough to reach my pharynx. I left the testing scene with guilt because the swab in my nostril made me sneeze. The health worker wore a mask, a shield, and gloves. Bent at the waist, swab in hand, she administered the test while I sat in my car. I worried that I might have sneezed into the space behind her shield. Six days and $80 later, my class privilege delivered the negative results of my test-in-the-parking-bay. As I write, mass screening for testing starts in poor communities.

Feminism, the Pandemic, and What Comes Next

Lucía Cavallero and Verónica Gago / April 21, 2020

Translated by Liz Mason-Deese

It is impossible to trivialize the images of pain that have been circulating for weeks. Across the planet, the virus has accelerated our comprehension of neoliberalism’s deadly mechanisms, the operation of its power over bodies. We could say that there is nothing new about this. Neoliberalism has shown that it can coexist perfectly with death machines, such as those at work in refugee camps and at borders, to name the most brutal examples. But now the virus, which does not discriminate by class or passport, has shown neoliberal life to be a spectacle that we watch online, accompanied by a necropolitical body count rising in real time. There are two arguments that do not convince us: a quick death certificate for capitalism and, as a counterpoint, the insistence that the pandemic confirms capitalism’s totalitarian control over life.

In the Shadows of Coronavirus

Antonio Y. Vázquez-Arroyo / April 29, 2020

The planetary pandemic caused by the swift spread of “coronavirus” resonates in obvious ways with prior narratives of outbreak in recent memory. From the avian flu to the swine fever, the diseases caused by viral mutations have all been accompanied by a particular way of narrating crises and catastrophes. Coronavirus is no exception. As the pandemic unfolds, commonplaces about catastrophes, especially plagues, come to the fore, almost as if scripted. It is thus important to conceptualize the ongoing crisis through earthly theoretical and political categories that adequately grasp the social and political stakes involved. This is important not only for a political comprehension of, or at least coming to terms with, what is currently unfolding, but to grasp the ways in which the current pandemic is advancing through an already catastrophic situation that presents openings and occasions for political change.

COVID-19 and the Work Society

James Chamberlain / April 30, 2020

Earlier this month, the International Monetary Fund declared the economic fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic to be the greatest downturn since the Great Depression. The shockwaves have reverberated across all domains of life, especially in the labor market, where arguably every worker has experienced disruption of one kind or another. Millions throughout the world now find themselves unemployed or furloughed, others are adjusting to the demands of working from home, while still others continue to go to work but under conditions of heightened risk to their health. Obviously the pandemic affects more than just people’s working lives—social distancing has made in-person socializing and most leisure activities impossible. But in the employment-centered neoliberal society, work is not only most people’s main source of income; it is also one of the main avenues for social interaction and cooperation, as well as a major constituent of individual sense of self and self-worth. The effects of the pandemic on employment therefore extend far beyond the matter of personal finances—as important as that is—and are tugging at the threads of the entire social fabric.

Triage: Deciding the Ethically Undecidable

María Antonia González Valerio and Rosaura Martínez Ruiz / May 5, 2020

In Mexico, the worst is yet to come. Imagination fails us when we seek to picture what will happen in emergency rooms when, in triage situations, medical teams are forced to make the unbearable choice: who lives and who dies? They will have to make this choice over and over again.

COVID-19: A Brake on the Desire for Fascism in Brazil

Cláudia Perrone and Rose Gurski / May 11, 2020

“I am here because I believe in you. You are here because you believe in Brazil. We won´t negotiate anything. What we want is action for Brazil …”

These words were spoken by Jair Messias Bolsonaro, President of Brazil, in the middle of his call for the end of the social isolation measures recommended by the World Health Organization as a means of containing the harmful impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. For Brazilian experts, the moment is worrying as the country approaches the peak of the transmission curve, with some 615 deaths in 24 hours—and this even without the disease’s having reached the most socially vulnerable members of the population. The event at which Bolsonaro spoke these words took place on April 19 and gathered a small group demanding the closure of congress and the army’s presence on the streets.

Politics of Life vs. Politics of Death

Zeynep Gambetti / May 19, 2020

Critics have recently begun to compare the Covid-19 crisis either to 9/11 or to the 2008 financial meltdown. This is highly misleading, in my view. The Covid-19 crisis is impossible to fully control by political fiat or to overcome by injecting money into the system. The sovereign right over life and death has been usurped by a virus, which is neither dead nor alive. Political decrees won’t be enough to stop the virus from killing, although they can slow down its spread. Nor are bailouts sufficient to revive economies devastated by the very lockdowns mandated by political authorities, since production lines cannot be reactivated without risking contamination. Perhaps for the first time since the dismantlement of the welfare state (et encore, since that was but a palliative that curbed the radicalization of working class demands), lawmaking and moneymaking pull in opposite directions. Political and economic imperatives have ceased to coincide: it’s either pandemic control or the economy.

Freedom in Quarantine

Zairong Xiang / May 26, 2020

The whole world is in lockdown. Or is it?

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we have seen some unprecedented measures imposed by governments across the world. These governments have closed down entire cities or even countries in order to “flatten the curve” and slow the spread of the deadly virus, because, unlike us, the virus is free; it traverses social strata and national boundaries. We need to check its freedom by putting our own freedom to move and to gather in quarantine. This, historians have told us, is an ancient way of combating contagious diseases. We are also reminded, in different ways—some benevolent, some outright racist—that after all in liberal democracies “we are not like the Chinese,” who allegedly can only obey their government’s dictates. This Chinese exceptionalism obscures the fact that most of those who could afford to stay at home in China are not very different from those who are staying home in the “free world.” They are all in one way or another beneficiaries of an unequal distribution of freedom—the freedom to stay home. We do it because we care, we can, or we have to. But one thing is clear: this freedom to stay at home comes at a price.

Chinese Capitalism and COVID-19

Yan Zhe / June 10, 2020

As the origin point of COVID-19, Wuhan became the stage of many tragedies. In a country where all college students are still required to take a course based on a textbook called Introduction to the Basic Principles of Marxism, the government’s response has exposed the hypocrisy of the phrase often used to describe the system as “socialism with Chinese characteristics.”

“Corona” and the Moral Economy of Life

Sabine Hark / June 23, 2020

We can find an insight useful to understanding the coronavirus pandemic and the policies devised to contain its spread in the work of French sociologist, Maurice Halbwachs, who was arrested by the Gestapo in Paris in July 1944 and died as a result of brutal work conditions in the Buchenwald concentration camp in March 1945. A year prior to the onset of WWI, Halbwachs writes in his essay “La Théorie de l’homme moyen. Essai sur Quetelet et la statistique morale” (1913) that “death and the age at which it occurs are above all a result of life and the circumstances in which life has developed.” These circumstances, he continues, are “at least as social as they are physical.” There are, thus, “good reasons to assume that a society has the mortality rate it deserves, and the number of deaths and their distribution among the different age groups faithfully reflects the value that a society attaches to the furtherance of life.” What Halbwachs offers here is no less than a critique of the moral economy of life.

The Social Contract and the Game of Monopoly: Listening to Kimberly Jones on Black Lives

Debarati Sanyal / June 29, 2020

As Derek Chauvin pressed his knee into George Floyd’s neck for eight minutes and forty-six seconds, the United States was poised to cross the threshold of 100,000 COVID deaths. We were grieving those who lost their lives to the virus, cut off from friends and family, gasping for breath alone in emergency rooms, nursing or private homes, detention centers, on the streets....We were holding our breaths as we read the daily toll of the pandemic, disproportionately taking Black and Brown lives. Far from being a “great equalizer,” COVID-19 reveals the virulence of structural racism. African Americans are dying of the virus at three times the rate of white people in America. As some official channels urged us to follow the protocols of social distancing and physical isolation in the interests of collective care (and others defied precautions in the name of rugged individualism), an officer in uniform sank the full weight of his body into the neck of a man who once said he wanted to touch the world. “I can’t breathe, man, I can’t breathe, I can’t breathe sir….”. Chauvin’s impassive gaze at the iPhone recording the murder, surrounded by accomplices, bystanders, and witnesses, conveyed absolute confidence in his impunity. He looked as though he was snuffing out a life that did not register as human, or as a life at all. It is the expression we might see on the face of an arrogant hunter with his kill, or someone merely resting their knee on an insensate thing.

On Time

Ailton Krenak / July 13, 2020

Translated and introduced by Alex Brostoff.

On March 6, 2020, at the seventh annual São Paulo International Theater Exhibition (Mostra Internacional de Teatro de São Paulo), a panel on “Anticolonial Perspectives” convened around the question, “What can we still imagine together?” At the opening roundtable, “On Time,” Brazilian Indigenous intellectual and activist Ailton Krenak addressed the occasion and its audience directly. In the remarks that follow, transcribed by Sonia Sobral, Krenak theorizes the polysemic possibilities and ambivalent effects of the encontro, a Portuguese term for an “encounter,” “meeting,” “assembly,” or “conference.” At once imbricated in ongoing colonial practices and imbued with the potentials of a collective subject, the encontro both intensifies and deters ecological disaster. “We are an unsustainable civilization,” Krenak contends, “We are unsustainable.” And yet, the prospect of encountering each other and continuing to imagine otherwise sustains the possibility of another tomorrow.

On Civil War

David Theo Goldberg / September 9, 2020

Politics today is nothing short of civil war. The driving question is no longer so much whether this or that conflict is a civil war but what political work the notion of “civil war” is being exercised to do. States descend into civil wars when contrasting conceptions of life within them are deemed irreconcilable. Living, for a considerable proportion of the state’s inhabitants, is made unbearable. Those at least nominally controlling the state apparatus insist on obedience and deference to its way of being, on pain of erasure. Civil wars are struggles over competing ways of being in the world, over their underlying conceptions, over control of the state and its apparatuses to materialize and advance these commitments.