Living and Thinking Crisis
The pandemic which has swept across the world is at once a crisis of public health and of human relationships. It cannot be considered apart from reaction to it by states and other actors. Both the virus and the response are of a scale and speed not matched in living memory. Across the world, this has upended everyday life and is testing the limits of human organization; socially, economically and politically. New possibilities and challenges, new portals and politics lie before us.
This Thesis Eleven online project engages with the pandemic in the real-time of its making, set against deeper reflection, looking forward, with critical theories, and back, with historical sociologies. The voices we bring to this project are global and diverse; a kaleidoscopic vantage to an historical crossroad. More about this project here.
Image: Alex Oelofse 2020
by Donald Sassoon
Consuming culture in almost complete isolation has been possible for years but under the conditions of the current pandemic we are encouraged and even obliged to do so.
by Michael Hviid Jacobsen
Almost overnight, death – after being absent for such a long time – re-entered the collective consciousness of contemporary society. Death, the constant doppelganger of life that we had been successful in keeping at arm’s length for so long, suddenly kicked in the door and made itself something to bed talked about, acted upon, dealt with. This time, death (or at least the prospect of and potential for it) presents itself as the ‘Corona virus’, which within a few months has become a worldwide problem and transformed the way we live.
by Izabela Wagner
We cannot spend our lives being blind and pretending that we are too weak to change the powerful system, especially those of us who are sociologists and scholars, who should be the ‘medical doctors of our societies’. Societies are our sick patients today, and not only because of coronavirus. Our societies are touched by callousness. By insensitivity to the violation of human rights. We, as members of that society, are also ill, because of our passivity. We are imprisoned by our conformism and focused only on ourselves.
by Nivedita Menon
In India, twin processes have driven the country in accelerated mode since the parliamentary elections of 2014, in which the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) came to power – predatory capitalism and Hindu supremacist politics. Both have seamlessly melded with the virus to emerge as practically invincible, at least at this moment in time.
by Glyn Davis
Charity might not be ideal, but in a world of limited states it matters that wealthy individuals and organisations address the consequences of inequality. Best they not be required, but better they exist than leave people destitute.
by Ayça Çubukçu
There is a utopic element buried in the apocalyptic saying, “Another End of the World is Possible.” It too champions something. In the time that remains, it too affirms the possibility of another reality.
by Dilip M Menon
Covid-19 has made us reflect on the human condition, the connection with unknown others, in our own societies as much as elsewhere. From Wuhan to Washington, from Johannisholm to Johannesburg, the virus laughs at national borders and travels through human hosts. Virality is however, trumped by nationality as nations put into place more and more restrictions on travel and movement and the body remains marked as ever by colour, class and caste.
by Warwick Anderson
In the Covid-19 pandemic, Australian beaches have been imagined simply as anomalous spaces of contamination, shorn of their ecological and sociological complexity, their actual life worlds. The understanding of viral transmission has been reduced to a mechanical model of contact and contamination, with some alien and stigmatized groups recognized as having special proclivity for carrying and communicating the pathogen–stranger super-spreaders–on safeguarded and sacralized sites, such as the beach.
by Peter Wagner
The experience of the lockdown has widened social imagination and has increased the potential for bringing about a positive social transformation. But we are also clearly still far away from constituting authoritative collective action towards resolving urgent problems on the basis of free expression and democratic deliberation.
by Sian Supski
This photo essay was written in the first lockdown in Melbourne, March to June 2020. We are now in the second lockdown. This time the vibe is different, and not easy to explain. The city feels more lonely. We look out our windows at the deserted streets, the empty gallery, the quiet bar and save for the construction noise next door and the passing sirens, it is eerily quiet.
by Beth Vale
In the queue, the language of ‘social distancing’ is loaded with meaning – illuminating the connections between physical distance and social disparity. Queues make visible the social distance between those who wait and (often far-removed) centres of authority.
by Abram de Swaan
In order to gain a better understanding of the course of events, it is necessary to examine the coronavirus pandemic in its broader economic and political context. In the process, there emerges a tripartite constellation that may well ultimately lead to catastrophe.
by John Kinsella
Surge Ode Lament: thinking tangentially over elements of canto XXIV of Dante’s Purgatorio [Gluttons and the newest ‘sweet style’ of lyric…] and Liszt’s Dante Symphony and the hungry suffering in the wake of the reign of the Global Gluttons who firmly believe they have done enough penance for having to tolerate a reduction in profits
by Charlie Samuya Veric
In my town, the recorded prayer takes place at 12 in the afternoon and at 8 in the evening, the latter followed by the saying of the rosary, also in Hiligaynon. Like drinking, gambling, and cockfighting, praying is part of the everyday soundscape of the town during the pandemic. So, too, it contains within it the dual character of life-making wherein authority and resistance are fused in its everyday performance.
by Steve Matthewman
While disaster capitalism narratives are well known to us, the bigger and more consistent story is its opposite. Sociology furnishes us with over a century’s worth of empirical evidence to show that communitas, the coming together of people for other people to secure a world together, is one of the most commonly made observations when disaster strikes
by Megan Warin (Adelaide) and Natali Valdez (Wellesley)
The underlying message of slogans like ‘My Body, My Choice’ is ‘white bodies have choices.’ The ‘freedom’ to not wear a mask is not equally accessible to everyone, and neither are the health risks. Black, Brown and Indigenous people have a higher risk of dying from Covid-19 and by the hands of the police.
by Rogers Brubaker
What makes the present moment so fraught is that the dynamics of medical, economic, political, and epistemic crises interpenetrate in complex and largely unforeseeable ways. The future course of the pandemic, for example, itself depends on many complexly interacting processes.
by Nathalie Karagiannis
Hospital staff, deserted cities, the return of animals. The contemporary unfolding of the pandemic through collage.
by Jeffrey C. Alexander
Cultural trauma is a contingent, open-ended social process. How it is crystallized in the collective consciousness and what its outcome will be, materially and institutionally, cannot be determined in advance, and after it does become crystallized it may continue to change.
by Jonny Steinberg
A decade hence, when we look back at the way South Africans responded to the coming of Covid-19, the irony will surely be as sad as it is stark. In the face of a global threat long imagined, people took shelter under the cover of the Leviathan, notwithstanding its many glaring imperfections.
By Sophie Chao
COVID-19 has prompted a renewed awareness of how we use our bodies under “normal” circumstances. For instance, some of us have noticed when and how often we wash our hands or touch our faces. We become conscious of the everyday tactile contact we make with human others. The close ones we embrace or kiss, or the colleagues and peers we shake hands with.
by Göran Therborn
The pandemic has been, and is, an experience of suffering and loss for millions of people around the planet. For us, privileged survivors, it has been a life-engraving learning experience. It has shown us the historical impact of contingency, the planetary commons and its eradicable divisions, a sharpening of social and political alternatives, and an acceleration of the current dynamic of the world, towards inegalitarian deglobalization, and possibly to a geopolitical US-China war.
About this project
The pandemic which has swept across the world is at once a crisis of public health and of human relationships. It cannot be considered apart from reaction to it by states and other actors. Both the virus and the response are of a scale and speed not matched in living memory. Across the world, this has upended everyday life and is testing the limits of human organization, socially, economically and politically.
The pandemic is testing the way in which knowledge and knowledge-makers have structured the universe of the academy and, indeed, its every purpose. This is because the pandemic presents immediate challenges to intellectual understanding and, as importantly, its practical relevance.
New possibilities and challenges, new portals and politics lie before us.
This engagement by Thesis Eleven looks to begin in the real-time of its making and unfolding, set against deeper reflection, looking forward, with critical theories, and back, with historical sociologies. The materials we publish here will be set for 12 months, and added to as developments unfold. After a year we will revisit these materials, and publish some in Thesis Eleven or in a book, offering writers the opportunity to rethink or revisit.
Areas of possible interest indicated to our writers and artists include the following, but are not limited to them:
1. How does the pandemic challenge both academic understandings and practical processes of globalization, including in its relationship to nations and nationalism, to ideas of a ‘risk society’, to understanding of global cooperation and its failures, to the interplay of social relations with technology and markets, to intellectual collaboration itself?
2. How does the virus challenge theories of (or complacency about) democracy?
3. What does the pandemic/response couplet reveal about inequality and power, inside nation-states and across countries in regional and global contexts?
4. How does the urgency of response to coronavirus relate to other urgent concerns, from climate change to the plight of refugees? And how can this intellectual work inform practical action (or why does it seem often to fail)?
5. How should academics orient their work to possible futures in the face of the pandemic? How well do conventional academic habits and institutions support the needed engagement with possibility rather than certainty, and normative judgments alongside empirical observations?
6. What are the shock effects of this crisis for thinking about everyday life? How has the pandemic caused us to imagine everyday life differently?
Our purpose will be to publish the thoughts (and lived-experience) of a span of authors from different countries and cultural/political contexts as well as different intellectual perspectives. These pieces can take one of two formats: longer pieces; and shorter postcard-type vignettes or essays (including photo essays).
The coordinators of this special project are Peter Vale, Craig Calhoun, Peter Beilharz, Sian Supski, Andrew Gilbert and Tim Andrews.