This article is a part of the Thesis Eleven online project: Living and Thinking Crisis

by Peter Beilharz and Sian Supski (Melbourne)

Hosier Lane, 13 November 2020 (coming out of Melbourne’s 2nd lockdown)
Photo: Sian Supski

Covid-19 has taken over the world, taken over everything including our waking everyday lives, our dreamlives, our scholarship and future institutional funding logistics. What should a slow journal like Thesis Eleven have to do with this, to contribute or to share?

Our friend and collaborator from Jozi, Peter Vale, provoked this special project in insisting that we must respond, call out members of our global network and others to respond to – think and write – this crisis. We recruited Craig Calhoun, another stalwart friend and collaborator, presently in Arizona, to help us compile lists of the usual and not so usual suspects, asking them to write short or long, postcards or essays or visual essays, with the plan that we would post these on our website and let them pickle for a year, then to revisit the situation with an eye to potential print outcomes in the fullness of time. This two-step approach would enable us both to respond effectively in real time, nowtime, and to satisfy the slower demands suggested by our traditional fields, historical sociology and critical theory, neither of these exactly renowned for speed. For what would this brave new world look like in a year? Andrew Gilbert and Tim Andrews filled out the Thesis Eleven editorial project team. Tim acted as web wizard, crafting the visual and aesthetic contours of the series, of which we remain very proud.

What have we together achieved? We did not aspire to any representative hopes in this, so much as to generate a serious diversity of work and views in form, identity, viewpoint and location. We hoped to mix media, and indeed attracted wonderful photo essays and poster images as well as a poem from John Kinsella, a poster from Emily Floyd and a closing song from Ian Collard.

This is not the place to enumerate these results, to seek summary or adjudication. Ours, today, is merely a momentary closure. What we need to do is thank all our contributors for rising to this occasion, bringing particular skillsets or enthusiasms to bear, whether those of historical sociology, cultural sociology, history or epidemiology or in terms of reports on everyday life, the view on their streets, the centrality of place and circumstance. We also want to thank and send our best wishes to those who were unable to deliver, constrained as they were in their home cities by the need to provide, to secure supplies of rice and oil or to care for their families and friends in such pressing times. The results include both the view of eagle and worm. In total, this is much more than we might reasonably have hoped to achieve.

And the bigger picture? Of life after Covid-19? In Australia, where we live, the health and death effects have been less dire than elsewhere, if not the economic consequences. In retrospect, this may seem to have been a lost opportunity for rethinking and reform. The conduct of politics suggests goals of restoration, rather than reconstruction. There seems to be a strong desire for a return to business as usual. As Kim Scott has observed, this hope, even for a revival of the existing social contract, has never been inclusive. Inequality expands further, risk is asymmetrically distributed. Universities, where critical activity has been hiding for a generation, will never be the same. Small acts of kindness have been more evident in everyday life, and engaging with strangers. The expanding ranks of the precariat have suffered inordinately, notwithstanding public shows of gratitude for their willingness to perform the most dangerous and ill paid of labours. This does, indeed, seem like business as usual. At the global level, it seems difficult to imagine what might be required by way of reform and repair, this not least in the United States after Trump, in India or Brazil, or in western Europe now. How will all this look in a year?

We look forward to the next step, and to the next chapter in the life of this Thesis Eleven project. See you soon.

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