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”.
The Social Sciences and Collective Health in the face of the current epidemic of ignorance, irresponsibility, and bad faith
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).
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.
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. 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.
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?
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.
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.
The coronavirus pandemic, among explicit policies and ordinary practices, exposes life-and-death decisions that require thoughts about possible outcomes. The effects of the pandemic do not only involve the relationship between a virus and bodies but rather are produced politically, based on unequal conditions and situations of life and practices, programs, and policies for its consideration.
The coronavirus pandemic certainly opens a new class of global fear. It is not like that anxieties, panics and global worries did not exist previously. However, as globalization is a historical process that has become increasingly sharp, it is expected that the last global fear will be more intense and complex than the others. What am I calling global fear? Here is a work definition: it is all tantalizing fear felt for all the inhabitants of a collective, with an expectation of an enormous amount of deaths, which potentially or in fact will reach everyone, and will bring an end to the world, known until a certain period of time. I leave the definition in a broad way to include some collective fears – obviously without any pretension of exhausting the examples – which, although are not planetary, will certainly include the feeling of the end of the world in a sort of archaeology of this terrible sensation, one real total social fact, as Marcel Mauss would say, that entails physiological, biological, psychological, cultural, political, economic, social and scientific responses.
There is never a good time to be stuck with a denialist but perhaps there is no worse time than at the emergence of a pandemic caused by an agent with high infection power. Or maybe we have only made the transition from epidemic to pandemic because of the obstinacy of the deniers.