Uppsala Research seminar no1 in Cultural Anthropology, Uppsala University, Spring 2021
- Date: –12:00
- Location: Given upon registration
- Lecturer: Professor Lenore Manderson (School of Public Health, University of the Witwatersrand)
- Organiser: Department of Cultural Anthropology and Ethnology
- Contact person: Dr Claudia Merli (Associate Professor of Cultural Anthropology)
The pandemic as optic: Anthropologies of urgency and COVID-19
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Organiser: Dr Claudia Merli (Associate Professor of Cultural Anthropology)
As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to build, the disturbing capacity of the virus to exploit social, political and biological vulnerability has become increasingly visible. The virus has loaded onto, complicated and magnified already existing inequalities, laying bare and amplifying disadvantage. It has exposed (again) vast gaps between countries, health systems, styles of government and populations.
Like any infective agent, coronavirus reverberates across the social and political structures of disease risk, control, containment, and care; it exploits the social and political schisms that shape the lived realities of everyday life. For this reason, the trajectory of the pandemic has been predictable. The pandemic provides an optic to illustrate how any disease is implicated in social life; conversely, our knowledge of social life is an optic to make sense of the pandemic. In this presentation, I reflect on my own research and residence in South Africa and Australia: the geography of social exclusion in Australia; the legacies of apartheid in South Africa; and everywhere the inequalities of acute care, chronic care and prevention, including of vaccines.
Responding to the pandemic calls for an anthropology of urgency. I argue for the urgency of bringing to the surface anthropological knowledge of other infections and other disasters, structures and systems. Anthropological theory and critical analysis help anticipate, illuminate and interpret the pandemic. This is not an argument for rapid ethnography as an alternative to extended engagement, although rapid ethnographic assessment surely has its place in times of crisis. Nor is it a pathography of the disease itself. Rather, our prior work and long term engagements shape our interpretive lens, and anthropological voices are critical in the moment.