Ravinder Kaur, University of Copenhagen, Denmark
COVID-19 is a truly global event. As the virus races past national borders claiming ever-new territories, the world seems to have come to an abrupt halt. Many nations across the world have undertaken emergency lockdown measures to contain the pandemic: from the closure of schools, universities and public institutions to cafes, restaurants and commercial establishments that facilitate social life. Airspaces and public transport have been closed, travel is minimal and public life is receding into private spaces as more and more people are asked to move to an online world. Put simply, the virus has turned a familiar world upside down, putting emergency brakes on a seemingly 24/7 non-stop world. The twenty-first century seems to be on pause, a pause that many are experiencing as an apocalyptic moment.
To think through this viral condition – a health emergency with profound social-political effects re-drawing our worlds – as apocalypse is to recover an older, mostly forgotten meaning of the term. Apocalypse means revelation, a moment when hidden knowledge, the inside workings of the world are revealed. It does not necessarily entail an end-of-the-world as such, but an end to how we have known and imagined it. If the world is exposed to the virus, the virus is exposing how the world works. The virus has imposed a state of emergency which is forcing us to confront ourselves.
What hidden truths are being revealed in this twenty-first century viral condition? For one, the stark inequalities across the global north and the global south, and within national enclaves, are being reproduced and exacerbated. What does it mean to 'stay safe' and 'stay home' when you do not have a home or stable income? What does it mean to move 'online' when digital access is not guaranteed or when the concerns about surveillance capitalism are growing? Or for that matter, the reignited debate of 'life vs. economy' that has resurrected the older debates about the modes of capitalist production and extractive economies, the expendability of those deemed as 'surplus populations' in a given society. How fragile are the 'freedoms' that liberal societies have taken for granted and to what extent will they be restored once we are through? How are old tropes of racism and self/other being reproduced or transformed as the disease makes its way through and across continents and oceans? In short, what kind of infrastructures of the political and techno-futures await us?
What is particularly critical about this event is that it is not happening 'elsewhere' for anyone to observe and analyse in a detached manner. It is happening everywhere. Yet strategies are different across the world, and even within national enclaves, and potential outcomes hinge upon how resources have been distributed in a given society. We are living through this apocalyptic moment together in isolation, and our experiences are vastly different even in the sameness.
This virtual symposium is an attempt to forge a conversation across many enclosures that make our world. It a partial chronicle of the manifold experiences and reflections here and now. We will continue to add reflections, dispatches and field notes to this archive of the present.
The Viral Condition: Identities