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Lives, economy, and emergency

by Federico Neiburg

Translated by Lucas Fraga    Reviewed by Matheus Lucas Hebling

Originally published in Portuguese April 15, 2020  link

In recent years in Social Sciences, particularly in anthropology, an ethnographic critique of the concept of life has been gaining strength, discussing its self-evident character and questioning the binarisms that oppose biological and biographical lives, natural lives and social lives, universes of life and death, of human and non-human lives, and which also focuses on the links between human lives and the lives of other species – links that are so important to shed light on the socio-biological dynamics of the pandemic that currently sweeps the planet. Similarly, relevant to understanding our present are the relationships between life and the economy, which until the current crisis seemed to have remained outside the radar of our disciplines. In this brief essay, I propose a view of these relations (between life and economy) on the ones I have been working on for some time, never imagining that they would have the dramatic relevance that they have gained in the last few months, turning into strategic questions to outline the present and the future of our collective existence.

We know that one of the characteristics of crises is the radical change in temporal experience. More than a simple acceleration, it is about a true compression of temporality that collapses present, past, and future, threatening to make any photograph of current events obsolete or trivial. Increased demand for responsibility for intellectuals and social scientists, more than ever in need of humility and empirical foundations. Far from the hasty diagnoses that flood the emergency, it is necessary to describe and put it in perspective.

Today we see as never before, public figures compelled to comment on the cost-benefit (or trade-off) relationships between life and the economy. From Boris Johnson to Donald Trump, from Recep Tayyip Erdogan to Jair Bolsonaro, from the governor of Texas to the Mexican president, it is claimed that the remedy is not more painful than the disease, condemns the alleged false humanism of those who value the lives of the relatively few (sick people) at the expense of the lives of the many (the unemployed, for example). Others respond by denouncing the former for prioritizing the lives of companies and banks to the detriment of people’s lives, demanding the universalization of social policies or basic income, announcing the inevitability of a Post-Neoliberal or Neo-Keynesian time to overcome the emergency. The top leaders of the International Monetary Fund and the World Health Organization jointly sign statements calling to reason and balance1. On the same line, the media that has traditionally been the spokesperson for financial capital (The Financial Times2, The Economist3) do their manifestation. They say ‘the trade-off is inevitable’ even in the molecular forms of the disease management in which health workers are forced to manage scarce resources, such as respirators, deciding who lives and who dies in hospitals.

The pace of production of new economic regulation measures overflows the understanding of their own experts: financial aid packages from the European Central Bank and the national monetary authorities, from the People’s Bank of China to the Federal Reserve. In just a few days, not only in Brazil, legal provisions are edited and revoked (provisional measures, constitutional amendments), architected projects are confused with current rules or for coming into force. It is known that one of the characteristics of emergencies is always the massive transfer of resources. Battles take place over the distribution of values ​​never seen before: billions and trillions of Yuan, Dollars, Euros, Reais… Nothing compares to the scale of the monetary flow set in motion, demonstrating the relative smallness of those who until now they were considered big problems, today infinitely reduced: from the budget deficit and the public debt of some states to the funds estimated to fight climate change. Announces the end of several eras: American hegemony, the European Union, democracy, neoliberalism; and the beginning of so many others: from the planetary digital state of exception to the utopias of universal communion at a “slower” and more “green” pace. A more egalitarian “New-Deal” that would supposedly be fed to public health instead of the war and carbon industry.

The diffuse proximity of death in the form of a virus whose precise behavior is unknown, accentuates the uncertainties shaping individual and collective behaviors. A new standard of good manners emerges – physical distance, isolation, the discipline of bodies, and emotions in quarantine distributed in a dramatically unequal way (who said that the pandemic levels human lives?). For the majority, for the multitude of the unpaid that grows exponentially at the same pace as the pandemic4 or for the migrants living in the circuits of the diasporas, immobility is an inaccessible luxury, a synonym for death and not for life; for many others like the millions in refugee camps or prisons, immobility was already a condemnation that the virus now multiplies. In the last few years, we have learned new meanings of the walls: until now, barriers were built and condemned. Today the fear that walls sought to exorcise by reshaping frontiers takes on new meanings with the tenacious search for the positive value of “social distance”. Technical diagnoses based on numbers proliferate that are mixed with ethical-moral arguments contributing to the densification of the emergency atmosphere or, more properly perhaps, of the “plague state”5. Thus, the acceleration of the cismogenetic dynamics of dystopia occurs.

Images 1 and 2 – Gourinchas, Pierre-Olivier; Flattening the Pandemic and Recession Curves Econfip March 2020

The first treatise on monetary imbalances and management of food supply chains were written precisely in the middle of the 14th century in the context of the black plague – the most famous of them, Da Moneta de Nicolás de Oresme. Especially in the growing urban centers of European pre-modern, at the same rate in which deaths multiplied by the millions, properties without owners and heirs proliferated, instabilities were produced that had never been seen in prices before: goods were left in the absence of consumers, others were scarce the disappearance of producers and distributors. The relationships mediated by money between people and between people and things were questioned. Also, the relations between currencies and the very existence of the political entities that issued them – city-states, kingdoms, principalities. As Oresme evokes, it is a world in turmoil that “never remains the same”, in which measures and values ​​change dramatically, requiring a “new discipline of calculus” and measurements.

This new discipline would only gain density (and legitimacy in universities) long after, at the end of the 19th century, giving rise to the emergence of a new behavioral science: Economics. As Georg Simmel suggests in the Philosophy of Money, it had as one of its founding axes precisely the monetary measurement of human lives: how much should a murderer or his family pay as compensation to the victim’s relatives? What is the monetary value of human labor? How to quantify enslaved labor? What are the meanings of bribery, the monetary value of love or honor? More precisely, how to calculate the cost of living? The German sociologist describes much more than a continuous process of monetization: a progressively differentiated valuation of human lives that presents itself in a dramatic and fleshy way in our current emergency. On one hand, human life in the singular, as a common value to all; on the other hand and at the same time, plural lives, unequal, according to social and moral metrics that distribute life expectations differently: regions of the planet, skin color, gender, landscapes and neighborhoods within the metropolises, from the slums to the parking lots of Las Vegas hotels today ghostly empty and dedicated to distributing the bodies, properly isolated from each other, of thousands of homeless6. Lives organized on ordinal scales, such as monetary ones, those draw hierarchies, and injustices.

Economic emergencies are specific spatial and temporal regions that gained unique status shortly after the First World War and that have the property of showing, blatantly, the modulations of the relations between life and economy. The reconstruction of food supply chains and infrastructures, first, the government of debts and hyperinflation that plagued Europe, soon afterward, led to the multiplication of emergency regimes: radical interventions in the functioning of markets to restore their “autonomy”, issuing money (in the case of Germany, of the so-called “emergency monies”, Notgeld) to, paradoxically, maintain the purchasing power of individuals and families. Moreover, in parallel after the post-World War II, heated debates between the most prominent figures in economic science, from John Maynard Keynes to Friedrich Hayek and many others. In fact, and that would be the subject of a much longer note than that, the emergency becomes a routine way of governing the economy, a true endemicity of the extraordinary that occurs in various time and geographic scales: the state of Rio de Janeiro. January that declares economic emergency in 2015 as a way to legalize the suspension of payment of salaries and other contracts to the “statistical emergency” decreed the following year by the Argentine president (Mauricio Macri) as a way of intervening in the official organs for measuring the cost of living to supposedly better fight inflation – not to mention the Emergency Banking Act signed by Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1933 or the Economic Stabilization Act signed by George W. Bush in 2008, and so many more.

Emergencies, as we have seen dramatically these days, involve real cognitive crises, radical changes in ways of conceptualizing reality in general, and the so-called “real economy” in particular. It is enough to observe the almost disappearance in the daily media metrology of the country or inflation risk indicators (the technicians of the Statistics Institutes can no longer carry out their work by measuring the cost of living, it is announced in several countries), and the substitution by numbers and curves of sick and dead, images that project proportions of intensive care units or respirators per inhabitant. Sometimes, too, as in the past few weeks in the United States, terrifying aggregates of unemployment arise – we are told that in 12 days, between the end of March and the beginning of April, the number of people applying for unemployment insurance in the largest economy in the world it went from 250 thousand to more than 20 million (and the curve is exponential, like the infected). Lives at imminent risk and in an indefinite temporality due to the dynamics of the virus and the recession affirm the perverse metonymy between economics, medicine, and war.

Emergency has the property of putting us in front of the contradictory imperatives of truth and urgency. The (re) valuation of science in times of the virus (yet another echo of the 14th century European) the hope of a new revival on the horizon of the post-pandemic. Cognitive issues that are, at the same time, moral and political and that intrinsically imply us as social scientists, although we are not, nor can we be, specialists in the conjuncture. One of the lessons we have learned by putting the crisis in perspective is precisely the long horizon that the dizzying present obscures. A hope and a commitment to discover new objects and new concepts and our own role in a world that we still do not know, while we continue to reflect theoretically and empirically on issues that have always been with us, and that the emergency puts in the flesh, as the dynamics of inequality, interdependence, instability, and uncertainty.

Federico Neiburg is a Professor at PPGAS, National Museum, Federal University of Rio de Janeiro. He is currently a member of the Institute for Advanced Studies at Princeton University and Coordinator of the Research Center for Culture and Economics (NuCEC).

July 10th, 2020|Categories: COVID-19|0 Comments

Deterritorialization without limits – Geographic reflections in times of pandemic (I)

by Rogerio Haesbaert

Translated by Lucas Fraga   Reviewed by Matheus Lucas Hebling

Originally published in Portuguese April 09, 2020 link

Illustration of the advertising campaign “Refugiados de Dante”, by the organization Médecins Sans Frontières

Some mantras of planetary globalism dominant until now were: move, travel, accelerate, grow, expand, extract (resources), consume, privatize, do flexible (labor relations), delocaçize (companies)… All of this, in face of the Coronavirus pandemic, was suddenly reversed: stop, do not travel, slow down, withdraw, do not consume, invest in public policies, nationalize (companies in crisis)… Here, amid a neoliberal boom, like a plague, the last mantra to be contested has not yet been reversed: for workers, further flexibilization of labor relations continues to be proposed, as if they were testing how far the resignation of this mass of extremely vulnerable (un)employees goes. It is as if, while the rich people can stop and protect themselves, the poor must continue to move, taking risks to ensure our survival.

Seventeen years ago, in “The myth of deterritorialization”, I wrote that the “end of the territories” (Bertrand Badie), the “end of the borders” and the Nation-state (Kenichi Ohmae) or even the “end of geography” (Paul Virilio) was not happening, contrary to what was propagated from Europe and the United States. When it was said that we were in a process of losing territorial ties, the term ‘deterritorialization’ was used very poorly, applied much more to the rich people who moved frequently and had more than one residence (including in different countries) than to poor people who really suffered the loss of control over their living spaces. So I proposed to the rich people, especially the executives of large transnational corporations, the term multi-territoriality, because they have full control over the multiple territories they frequent, always in the “mobile bubble” of the same hotel chains, resorts, stores, restaurants… Even so, however, they depended on a large network of services offered by workers — in general, migrants, and these were deterritorialized (or precariously multi-territorialized).

In a look from our Latin American reality so unequal, I reserved the term ‘deterritorialization’ more for the effective loss of territorial control of the poorest, subaltern groups that struggle daily for their own survival. I even stated that a homeless person, for example, can make the defense of the marquee of a building at night his own territory, just as a prisoner in an overcrowded cell can make a mattress his territory during the few hours in whom can sleep, taking turns with others. In this sense, deterritorialization can be seen, mainly, as the precariousness of territorial controls that guarantee our own condition of life. Imagine, as the most brutal result of this pandemic, in a world where public health has never been a priority, what it can cause in countries of historic inequality as debasing as ours in Latin America. Starting with the thousands of homeless people, the end of this pyramid, and the most vulnerable, as they are the least able to isolate themselves or “getaway” socially.

It was even stated that fluid and the liquid world was projected increasingly impetuous, a “gift” of neoliberal globalization that consumes and remakes everything, in an atrocious technological reinvention, all the time recreating “unnecessary needs” that, stimulated with the billions spent on advertising, even indebted, we consume vigorously. In this eagerness for the new and the movement, however, it forgot that the old may not die and that fixation and closure are the other, inseparable part, of opening and movement. It would take a killer virus to remind us of those old lessons. Moreover, to reinforce our much-vaunted thesis that deterritorialization, of ‘tourists’, was a myth.

The metaphor of Zygmunt Bauman’s globalized ‘tourists’ (being careful not to overdo it) also helps to understand the rapid spread of the coronavirus. In addition to the metaphor, in the last decade, the number of tourists around the world has almost doubled, reaching today around 1.5 billion people. If we remember that international migrations have also increased substantially in the last decades, reaching 272 million people in 2019 (that is, 3.5% of the world population, against 2.8% in the year 2000), we perceive the intensity of the movement of our bodies across the planet. All without mentioning the enormous international mobility of the day due to work. Besides, there were still those who looked down on this material, the corporeal dimension of human life, in the name of generalized virtualization or dematerialization (erroneously also called deterritorialization).

Paradoxically, the great inequality that drives the economic system is now revealed with all its rawness among those who can be isolated, hypothetically ‘immunized’ in the shelter territories of their homes, with economic conditions to remain there, and those who, without the guarantee of their resource territories, are forced to cross the city to ensure food, health, cleanliness or security for the entire population.

Recalling the distinction that Jean Gottman proposed (later incorporated by Milton Santos) between the territory as a shelter and the territory as a resource it is clear that it is impossible to live our lives without the overlap of these two properties. Our homes, as the last refuge-space, can guarantee us a certain shelter, protecting us (relatively) from the spread of the virus. However, this condition is only really achieved by overlapping with access to multiple resources: channeled water and sewage, wired energy, telephone by an antenna, the food we need to get at the supermarket, medicines at the pharmacy, and fuel for transporting these goods at gas stations, etc.

The time when we were autonomously ‘sheltered’ in our homes is long gone. Few people today enjoy this privilege. However, we have another huge privilege that we rarely realize. We need to become aware of how much the security of our individualist quarantines is due to a mass of (vulnerable) workers who guarantee us access to these many resources necessary for our survival. This pandemic could teach us a little more to recognize our own fragility and the degree of dependence that we have on the many services, guaranteed by these workers with whom we should have the greatest respect and solidarity. Going to the windows to applaud health professionals is a timid start.

In a broader sense, the unprecedented and overwhelming challenge this pandemic poses to us is to stop – at least slow down – or to perish. It opens up what, for many, incomprehensibly, still did not seem clear enough: the failure of a system that, in theory, abolished the idea of limit and called itself the sovereign of the planet. As stated in an article four years ago, unlike dominant discourses, the fluidity of planetary globalization has brought to the fore, with even more force, the debate about limits.

“…limits such as restriction, restraint, in a negative connotation, but also in the sense of being an inseparable part of our civilizing dynamics, insofar as, biopolitically speaking, the hegemonic corporate model, based on accumulation and / or ‘growth’ capitalist, put at stake even our survival as a biological species on Earth”.

If the immediate fight against precariousness and brutal inequality is not prioritized, we will have no way out. The defense of the planet’s Bio and Ethnic diversity requires, more than ever, a common planetary culture and policy that values, in the first place, the reduction of perverse inequality among the peoples of the Earth.

This compulsory stop, in addition to the very probable social upheavals that it will trigger (already rehearsed in recent protests in Latin America and various corners of the world, from Lebanon to Hong Kong) may bring a serious rediscussion of civilizational directions. If Big Brother from the extreme right does not take advantage of the occasion to impose more perverse controls, this may be our last chance. The tremendous deterritorialization in terms of the resulting social precariousness will be the most ruthless indicator that we either sympathize with the most fragile and recognize our common destiny, or we all perish together, because the boat, more than ever, has proved to be one, and it’s sinking. There will be no domestic or individual trench capable of protecting us from this shipwreck.

Rogério Haesbaert is Professor in the Geography post-graduation program at Fluminense Federal University.

July 6th, 2020|Categories: COVID-19|0 Comments

Temples in times of pandemics

by Ronaldo de Almeida and Clayton Guerreiro

Translation by Giovanna Imbernom  Reviewed by Matheus Lucas Hebling

Originally published in Portuguese April 13, 2020 link

In Matthew 18:20, Jesus said, “For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them”. But what to do when a virus (agnostic and uninvited) threatens to infect the group of faithful and to make them sick and, in some cases, to lead them to death?

As expected in times of apocalyptic feelings, religions are challenged to guide their followers and to give meaning to the possibility of collective death approaching.

Afro-Brazilian religions do not have a unified control center, however, regarding the news coming from several places, terreiros (worship places) have adhered to social isolation. The Brazilian Spiritist Federation (FEB) oriented its Spiritist Centers to follow the Health Department’s directives and emphasized that the activities continue, albeit online.

Likewise, Jewish synagogues and Islamic mosques orient their communities to maintain sanitary isolation. Political leaders in Israel and Palestine started an agreement for a temporary suspension of historic conflicts. It is worth dying for the political-religious war, but not for a newborn virus.

Pope Francis revealed the Catholic Church’s position on this. The recommendation is to stay at home, while the temples are opened for prayers without agglomeration. History will note this scene when Pope Francis celebrated alone, under light rain, a mass in St. Peter’s Square, granting forgiveness to those who died due to the virus.

The most controversial cases, however, are coming from the evangelical community, in which the reaction towards the theological-sanitary issue varies according to the genuine faith, solidarity feeling, religious demagogy, and irresponsible opportunism.

Generally speaking, historical Protestants and Pentecostals have been following the sanitary orientations to close temples for service but keeping them open for prayers or individualized support. Online services exploded on digital networks. For this evangelical community, the virtuality of the Internet is not an obstacle for the presence of Christ.

However, in the opposite direction, some Pentecostal leaders have resisted, from the beginning to the cancellation of cults. Silas Malafaia, Bishop Macedo, R.R. Soares, Valdemiro Santiago, among other less significant names, have spread the messages of Messias Bolsonaro. Three are the main points in this stance.

First, the relation between the Laws of Man and the Law of God. Whom to obey? Claiming the churches are the last resort for the desperate ones, Bolsonaro, and those leaders evoked the freedom of religion granted by the Constitution, but not considering the peculiarity of the moment and the fact that the Constitution itself guarantees the welfare of all citizens, religious or not.

Second, the central role of temples in religious practice, especially among those who draw upon the Internet, television, and radio. It is no coincidence that religious and non-religious people are accusing those leaders of having economic interests. Finally, what happens to the collection of offerings and tithe if the temples are closed? It is interesting how both discourses seem alike, of those leaderships and retailer businesspeople. If the small business (temples too?) closes, it breaks.

Third, the apocalyptic discourse. From the Plagues of Egypt in the Book of Exodus to the prophecies in The Revelation, preaching indicates that the virus is some kind of scourge of God or sign of the second coming of Christ. In those cases, mass deaths are inevitable. Attention: it works as a technological vaccine for miracle-making churches saying they cure thousands of people every week but cannot stop the ongoing pandemics.


 Photo: Bolsonaro visits Solomon’s Temple  

Retrieved from Folha de S. Paulo/ Alan Santos

Finally, it is worth mentioning the disastrous event of the churches La Porte Ouverte, in France, and the Shincheonji Church of Jesus¹, in North Korea. By insisting on the spiritual immunity against the coronavirus, both became centers of dissemination. Subsequently, the founder of the Korean church even apologized to people publicly, but it was too late. God could have forgiven him, but the virus – which has no beliefs – has not.

Let us pray (alone)!


Ronaldo de Almeida is a professor at the Anthropology Department at University of Campinas. and researcher at Cebrap. Author of “A Igreja Universal e seus demônios” from Ed. Terceiro Nome, yet to be translated to English.

Clayton Guerreiro is a Ph. D. Student in Social Sciences at University of Campinas.



June 29th, 2020|Categories: COVID-19|0 Comments

The vertical citizenship in Brazil: the case of Coronavirus

by Marcelo da Silveira Campos

Translation by Anna Paula de Moraes Bennech    Reviewed by Matheus Lucas Hebling Original publication: April 15th, 2020 link


Photograph from the series “Entre Morros” by Claudia Jaguaribe, 2010.

Partial isolation, or vertical isolation as it has been called, consists essentially in only removing from social relations the groups that are most susceptible to mortality by COVID-19, such as people over 60 years old, or diagnosed with diseases as hypertension and diabetes. Bolsonaro, Brazil’s current president, defends this measure, based on the bolsonarist discourse, taking the mass “return to work” as justification. This argument precisely inflated the small (fortunately) motorcades in favor of the “return to work” on March 29th, 2020. However, in constant meetings and pronouncements on the Planalto, the federal authorities admit that there is no study to justify such a direction, which is often contrary to the guidelines of the Minister of Health himself and the World Health Organization[1]. On March 31st, 2020, the president distorted once again the statement of the General Director of the World Health Organization (WHO), Tedros Ghebreyesus, to question the quarantine and state that he is right about how to conduct the crisis.

I want to call attention to the reflection that the idea of vertical isolation, however, is not (and has never been) new in Brazil. It is true, especially when we relate this proposal to vertical citizenship in Brazil. In short, we can say that citizenship is vertical in Brazil because it has always been fundamentally hierarchical. On the one hand, the privileged groups, a small portion of the population, possess the majority of social, legal, economic, and symbolic resources to exercise differentiation and reproduce inequality in public and private spaces. On the other hand, most of the population, the less privileged classes, act at the edge of social assistance networks, mainly working on the domestic labor market, the goods and services industry, the informal market, and health professions. These professionals do not have the same social, legal, and economic resources to exercise rights in the public and private spheres, which means to be and to exercise horizontal citizenship.

The composition of the Brazilian labor market during the 19th century, basically constituted by the massive slavery of black men and women, made a city like Rio de Janeiro have approximately 50% of its population formed by slaves. In the same century, one of the first books considered sociological in the country was written – “Rebellion in the Backlands” by Euclides da Cunha. It describes how, in the new republic, Canudos attracted hundreds of poor northeasterners awakening the wrath of the great landowners and political elite: more than 15 thousand people died in the country, the poor being the vast majority.

These points deserve attention because, in my opinion, they are articulating the socio-political reaction to COVID-19. This articulation constitutes the highest risk to the spread of Coronavirus in Brazil and a new genocide of the Brazilian poor and peripheral population. The political defense of vertical isolation (and its defenders) represents the most significant danger to our democracy as well as the continuity of a verticalized and hierarchical citizenship. Therefore, workers from the upper and middle classes will continue in their horizontal isolation, working in the home office, and taking the non-exposure necessary measures. Nevertheless, vertical isolation will principally affect the residents of the peripheries and favelas of large Brazilian cities, health workers who dedicate their lives to the cutting edge of public health and social assistance, household assistants, the 12 million unemployed, the imprisoned. These people, indeed, will be again exposing their lives to vertical isolation. And, again, the vertical citizenship in Brazil.

Contrarily, the defense of horizontal isolation, therefore, equally distributed to the different groups, sectors, and social classes of the population – with all submitted to the same quarantine measure – is more than necessary. Notwithstanding, unfortunately, it is inconceivable for most of the privileged sectors in Brazil. As Chico Buarque’s song teaches us: horizontal isolation is fundamentally related to a practical conception in the social space – public and private – of the exercise of full citizenship (paraphrasing Parsos in the always essential text about “Citizenship for a Black American”) for all and everyone. In our republican path, it is still an urgent task: full citizenship for Brazilians, especially for black women and men, the peripherals, household assistants, and health workers, which want nothing of vertical. And yet, horizontality.


Marcelo da Silveira Campos holds a Ph.D. in Sociology from USP, is a professor at UFGD, and is a guest professor at USP Medical School. He is also a researcher and post-doctoral fellow at INCT-InEAC/UFF.

[1]     For further information:

June 26th, 2020|Categories: COVID-19|0 Comments

The COVID-19 pandemic and women

by Marlise Matos

Translation by Anna Paula de Moraes Bennech Reviewed by Matheus Lucas Hebling   Original publication: April 2nd, 2020 link

Despite the many changes that have occurred, we all know how to point out and understand the established gender roles, where women would be the “caregivers,” “housewives,” mainly responsible for homes and families.

Unfortunately, these roles can act against women in times of the COVID-19 pandemic, bringing them closer to danger and vulnerability. For instance, one simply must glance at any Brazilian hospital, Emergency Care Unit, or Health Center to realize that women are the vast majority of the health workforce. Wermelinger et al. (2010) identified the feminization of the health workforce by analyzing the Brazilian census data regarding its health workforce. Amid the graduated workers in this area, they are 90.39% among nurses, and 95.31% among nutritionists; however, they represent only 35.94% among physicians. Considering the technical level professionals, they are 77.88% of physiotherapy technicians and related techniques, 78.03% of nursing attendants and midwives, and 86.93% of nurse technicians and assistants. The Social Service situation is practically identical.

Image: What they call love is unpaid work / Artist: Ailén Possamay

The data inform us that the WOMEN are right now in the front line combating and confronting COVID-19. It also tells us that they are still filling lower positions in the professional hierarchy in the health field. Hence, we ask ourselves: with whom are their children? When those women arrive home and cannot have direct contact with their own families, who takes care of these women and their children?

In the social isolation context, we also know that women are taking care of the required sanitizing duties as well as the work related to preparing family meals. It happens in parallel to accomplish remote work, the domestic work, and the entertainment of the confined children. In the communities and peripheries of Brazil, an immense country, women lead actions of mitigation and confrontation against the spread of COVID-19. They are mobilizing their communities for this war, taking risks, and placing themselves in even more vulnerable situations. We also grasp that domestic violence may intensify in confinement due to Coronavirus, and therefore we must act now against this phenomenon.

If women are on all the front lines combating this pandemic, why are they not at the core of decision-making processes, deliberating on the actions and paths to be taken?

Women are simply essential in the fight against the pandemic. Consequently, it is fundamental to ensure that there is a feminist and gender dimension in all responses. It is necessary and urgent to address sufficient resources to fulfill the needs of women and girls in this context, especially for the health and social service workers. Moreover, it is needed to be more attentive and alert to the escalation of gender violence as well as preventing it. In other words, it is urgent that women have power, being directly involved and actively participating in all phases of response and decision making regarding this pandemic, whether local, state, regional, national or international.

We, women, are capable of caring, and of acting critically toward transformation. The change we hope to see in the world, the post-COVID-19 civilization, however, involves the recognition and political-social protagonism of all us, women. The moment for this movement is now.


WERMELINGER, M. et al. “Feminilização do Mercado de Trabalho em Saúde no Brasil: focalizando a feminização”. Divulgação em Saúde para Debate, Rio de Janeiro, n. 45, p. 54-70, maio 2010.

Marlise Matos is an Associate Professor at the Department of Political Science and Coordinator of the Nucleus of Studies and Research on Women (NEPEM) at the Federal University of Minas Gerais (Universidade Federal de Minas Gerais – UFMG).

June 26th, 2020|Categories: COVID-19|0 Comments

The Social Sciences and Collective Health in the face of the current epidemic of ignorance, irresponsibility, and bad faith

by Sérgio Carrara

Translation by Cláudia Pires de Castro  Reviewed by Matheus Lucas Hebling Original publication: April 24th, 2020 link

National Museum under renovation after the 2018 fire. Photo: Luciana Cavalcanti

One of the oldest and most traditional social sciences fields is the analysis of health and disease processes and the relationship between biological and social. The concern in this Social Anthropology field is so expressive worldwide, especially in the United States, that a subfield dedicated to it has been developed: Medical Anthropology. In Brazil, this subfield is called Body and Health Anthropology, and the National Association of Post Graduate Studies in Social Sciences (ANPOCS) annually promotes working groups, forums, and roundtables for its development. In recent years, three specific national meetings have been held, entitled Meetings of Health Anthropology (RAS).

Of course, it is not a matter of listing here the numerous contributions to Brazilian and international Public Health of the Social Sciences in general and Social Anthropology in particular. This would require a large number of pages. Many other pages would be needed if we added production on the subject from the field of Philosophy, History, Demography, Psychology, Administration, Law and Economics.

In order to have a merely hinted of the importance and robustness of the production of the Human and Social Sciences in health, we recall that most of the post-graduate programs in Collective Health, Public Health or Social Medicine in Brazil have departments that bring together social scientists of different backgrounds (anthropologists, political scientists, sociologists). Moreover, two of the three commissions of the Brazilian Association of Collective Health (ABRASCO) – the Social and Human Science in Health Committee[1] and the Policy, Planning, and Management Committee[2] – gather important branches of sociological knowledge. It is also worth mentioning that the most important Public Health institution in the country and Latin America – the Oswaldo Cruz Foundation (FIOCRUZ) – is currently chaired by a professional who graduated in Social Sciences, who hold a master’s in Political Science and Ph.D. in Sociology. This demonstrates the quality of Brazilian undergraduate and post-graduate courses in the area.

The contribution of social scientists is indispensable in any action in Public Health. In other words, it cannot prescind without a comprehensive perspective on how interactions between people and human groups take place, on how societies are structured and, finally, on how pathological processes acquire different meanings in each of them. It is indisputable that the trajectory of contagious epidemic disease in a society in which are in force strict rules of avoidance between social categories or castes (which includes avoiding contact with body fluids) will be totally different in a society where such rules do not exist. In the same way, social groups not very permeable to scientific discourse will react differently from those that are not. Therefore, socio-anthropological knowledge is strategic for understanding the distribution and spread of different epidemics in a specific social space. Moreover, in the field of health education, such knowledge has been crucial for the development of more effective action techniques, based on respect for human rights and permanent dialogue with the worldviews – sometimes strongly contrasting – held by different social actors. The efficacy of this technology has been widely proven in the context of “the Brazilian response to the HIV/AIDS epidemic”, which has long been considered as a model health policy and worthy of international respect.

Only bad-faith, prejudice, or deep ignorance can explain that opposing health professionals to anthropologists and philosophers, Brazilian authorities insist on reaffirming the secondary character of the contribution of the human and social sciences, particularly Social Anthropology, in the fight against endemic and epidemic diseases. This is an accusation so unreasonable and unfounded that it is even difficult to answer it.  Especially at this moment, when we must aggregate efforts, ideas, and techniques from all areas of knowledge to confront an epidemic that is configured as the most serious threat to public health since the Spanish flu, this is an irresponsible statement.


Sérgio Carrara is Professor at the Institute of Social Medicine (UERJ) and Vice-President of the Brazilian Association of Anthropology.

Beautiful Deaths, Good Deaths, Evil Deaths, and Covid-19

by Carmen Rial

For Louis- Vincent Thomas

Translation by Jeffrey Hoff  Original publication: April 14th, 2020 link

On one of my last visits to the apartment of my doctoral supervisor, the Africanist anthropologist Louis-Vincent Thomas, in the elegant Parisian neighborhood of Saint Mandé, I was stunned by the personal mode of handling death, by he who was a specialist in the theme. His apartment was lined with photographs of his wife, who had recently passed away. Literally lined, beginning from the hallway entered when stepping off of the elevator, where large banners reproduced photos from different epochs, many of them with her face, photos of augmented identity. “It’s impressive the number of photos that a person takes during their life”, he commented upon seeing my eyes fixed on them. “Just look in the drawers, and there they are”.

Life and Death, Gustav Klimt 1926

I was one of his last supervisees, probably the last, because he was the Doyen of the Universidade de Paris V, and only continued to supervise me because I had been with him since before he retired. Why did he supervise a thesis about cultural globalization and fast foods? In addition to the theme of death, Thomas was interested in anthropology of the future, in science fiction.

Thomas died in January 1994, less than two years after this visit. From what I remember of one of his seminars at the Sorbonne, I think that he would classify his as a “good death”: he was older than 70, and in the metro when he had a severe heart attack as he was returning from a radio or TV interview. It was with him that I learned to distinguish “good deaths”, “beautiful deaths” and “evil deaths”. More recently there has also been broad reflection on “programmed death”, euthanasia, which is increasingly present in feminist studies, for example, but I will not address this issue.

Different societies and groups elect different deaths as being beautiful, good or bad. For the ancient Greeks, Thomas taught, the ideal death, the beautiful death, would be that of a young warrior, with bow in hand, defending his city; which makes me think of the idealization of martyrs in Palestine. Among many traditional African groups, the good death is that of an old person who prepared for the event of their death, and left life surrounded by loved ones, without much suffering. In our society, a good death is a fast death, unconscious and without pain. To die with dignity would be to leave life without
passing through physical or mental degradation, without suffering or causing suffering (even if Christianity, among other religions, values physical suffering).

In many traditional societies, the worst of deaths is that which occurs far away, alone. It is considered to be very harmful to those who die and to those who remain. The cadaver has a determinant symbolic weight, it is the actor of the funerary ritual. The repatriation of bodies shows that this is still true among us, the dead body continues to be seen as central. To the contrary, the idea of an absent body, a body that is not found, can be quite upsetting to survivors. A body that has disappeared or is not identified, because of war, catastrophe or accident, produces an unsupportable void. We know this very well here in Latin America, from the supreme cruelty of the “disappearances” during the military dictatorships, where the physical liquidation of victims was not sufficient. Those who remained suffered from an absence of all references to the circumstances of death: the date, place and form. The lack of these details was like a confiscation of death, and a confiscation of the mourning of the family, leaving them blocked in a dramatic phase of denial. The official versions denied the death, transformed it into a disappearance, creating a terrible doubt about its reality. After all, the cadaver is the main element of the funerary ritual, and Thomas saw this to be universal, to the point that this reveals the fundamental essence of human consciousness.

Power and Image of Bodies

From the attack of Sept. 11 I learned that dead bodies were treated with different values by Western journalism, depending on the power of their country of origin. This difference was revealed, for example, in the mise en image of the bodies. The TV cameras, which quickly began to cover the Sept. 11 attack, initially showed people jumping out of windows from the upper stories of the burning World Trade Center. But these images were later self-censored, because they were considered too shocking to be seen by the US public and the world. This attitude continued in the following days. At
first we saw some bodies being taken from the ashes of the buildings, later, it was rare to see portrayals of wounded people or those agonizing in hospitals, or scenes of their
burials. The death of thousands of people was shown through lit candles, tears, but not in dead bodies.

The image of our dead in the Western world is shown (if they are shown) with great caution, with reserve, because it involves individuals who are seen to deserve respect. The face of a cadaver is not seen in the media. Never a naked dead body.

However, the Western media’s posture towards the dead and wounded in the Global South is quite different, especially in Muslim countries. Dead bodies are exhibited, they appear in common graves, in hospital beds, wounded, partially clothed. They are shown in close-up for a long time. This difference is perhaps best expressed in the linguistic expression coined by the US military in the Vietnam war and used to refer to civilian victims of military forces in the Afghanistan and Iraq wars: who are not called “wounded” or “dead, but referred to as “collateral damage”, in an evident objectification of human lives.

This self-censorship, or censorship, is not new; it took place during World War II when the American military displayed the bodies of the enemies, but not those of the allies. Or in more recent wars, when the bodies of US soldiers who died in combat have always been sent back in closed coffins, covered by a U.S. flag, and unloaded with pomp and circumstance by troops in full dress uniform, on red carpets, to the sound of horns.

Our bodies do not appear in images, but have their names engraved in stone, they deserve individual tombs (I am thinking of the well-groomed lawns of the cemeteries of U.S. soldiers) and monuments ( I am thinking of Ground Zero, in which the water flows over a black granite wall to a black granite pool, and from there to an even darker square from where it seems to flow to the center of the earth. The names of the 2,726 who died in the attack at the location are recorded in the granite that surrounds the pool. I think of France, where each village honors its dead from the War of 1914 with a monument to the unknown soldier.

Mourning was intense in the US for the 3 thousand who died on Sept. 11. They were honored each year, and until recently had their names read by the U.S. President at Ground Zero, and their photos were shown on TV (photos from when they were living, obviously). This is quite different from the collective graves where the bodies of the victims of the Nazi holocaust were dumped during World War II, or of the more recent “collateral damage”. It is quite different from the final destiny of the bodies of emigrants taken by the waters of the Mediterranean, 1,500 in six months of 2018 alone [1] – and here it is impossible to speak of interment, because it was an “aquament”.

The unsupportable absence of the body

How will it be now, when the most optimistic forecast is for 100,000 dead in the United States from Covid-19? What monuments will be raised in Brazil, the United States, France or India?

Covid-19 does not distinguish whether the bodies of the dead are from countries with greater or lesser power – it is a pandemic in an equalizing and global sense of the term. All are collateral damage and treated as if they were. Yes, there are extreme cases, like that of Guayaquil in Ecuador, where decaying cadavers were left in the street because the mortuary system collapsed and was incapable of handling so many bodies. In poor or wealthy countries, all are denied wakes. What will be the consequences of the absence of this ritual?

Among us, the absence of the body is only accepted when hidden in a coffin covered by a flag. Death from Covid-19, which has forced the absence of bodies, the absence of wakes, decreases the chances of a final personal contact with the dead, a last moment when the body is still on the side of life, circled by loved ones. To the contrary, we are facing fear of the cadaver, which itself is an agent of this death, and this fear will probably be unconsciously translated into an aggression in relation to the death, to a premature but protective aversion. Symbolic fantasies of contagion from the dead are now quite real.

We know that the ritual of the wake frames the disorder that death produces, circumscribes and dominates it. There is no wake for a dead body with corona virus, at least a complete wake with all its steps, in which the reality principle is left aside. To contemplate the body of the deceased, touch it, speak to it, even kiss it are moving moments of rituals at wakes that will be absent in those of Covid-19 victims. They are denied the respect of a final grooming, this ritual that seeks to remove from the cadaver the signs of death, any signs that could harm it. They pass directly from the hospital bed (if they were able to gain access to one) to a plastic bag, and from there to a coffin. Only one family member has a right to see it, to attest to the death – and there have been decrees releasing the State from this step, allowing bodies to be sent directly to a common grave.

September 11 displayed death live and in color, on a planetary scale. Covid-19 allows us to know through the website of the World Health Organization, [2] nearly in real time, through an interactive app, how many have died in each country of the globe. We have the complete statistics, their ages, morbidities – if they had heart or respiratory problems, were diabetic, if they belonged to other “risk groups”, and at times even the origin of their contamination. What we do not know is what weight these thousands of deaths without a wake will have on the subjectivities that remain. What rituals will we create? Without them, how will be bear so many deaths that are neither beautiful or good?




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