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Emma Gilberthorpe (University of East Anglia)
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Author:Daniel Miller (University College London (UCL))
Paper long abstract:
Most of the discussion around the balance between care and surveillance during the response to Covid-19 has been focused on the rise of contract tracing through smartphones. The varied governmental responses and even more varied degrees of concern around compliance and privacy. All of which has highlighted a finding from the ASSA project (Anthropology of Smartphones and Smart Ageing) about how smartphones have developed the possibilities of both care and surveillance. What has been less discussed and was still more prominent within the ASSA ethnographies is the way ordinary people took up the mantle of surveillance and felt responsible as citizens for ensuring the compliance of the public with government strictures. The events provided many insights into how public normativity is created and maintained through practices such as sharing memes, but also shaming and upbraiding each other. There is state surveillance and surveillance capitalism, but what of surveillance from below? And what does this tell us about contemporary citizenship?
Authors:Geert De Neve (Sussex University)
Grace Carswell (University of Sussex)
Paper long abstract:
On 25th March 2020, to stem the spread of Covid-19, Prime Minister Narendra Modi imposed a country-wide lockdown that immobilised over 1.3 billion people across India. Media and early scholarly reports revealed the multiple health, social and economic impacts of the pandemic and the related lockdown, with clear indications that those already vulnerable or marginalised were most acutely affected.
In this paper, we present accounts of garment and textile workers from two villages in Tamil Nadu, collected during the national lockdown from 25th March to 31st May. These villages - Allapuram and Mannapalayam - are located in the hinterland of Tiruppur, India’s largest knitwear manufacturing and export hub. Being in the middle of a year-long restudy of these villages, we were able to continue collecting material, using phone conversations with key informants.
While, to date, no one in these villages has contracted Covid-19, the lockdown paralysed rural life across the social spectrum, albeit with diverse outcomes shaped by pre-Covid-19 social and economic positions. We describe the immediate economic fall-out of the lockdown in terms of job losses in a region heavily dependent on garment and textile work. We also reveal some of the instantaneous responses they elicited, including by the state. We then explore shifting experiences in the medium term as unemployment and cash shortages began to threaten the livelihoods of the poor.
Responses and interventions seemed to differ quite radically in these study villages, in line with caste relations, labour markets and, crucially, relations of patronage. Our findings provide food for thought around the workings of patronage, dependency and indebtedness at a time of crisis. The lockdown not only provides a lens through which to study relations of power and inequality, but also reveals how times of crises exacerbate inequalities while also galvanizing unexpected forms of support.
Author:Heike Schaumberg (University of Buenos Aires)
Paper long abstract:
The Covid-19 pandemic has revealed many of the ills of capitalism as illustrates the current wave of protests in the ‘Global North’ against institutional racism; precarity is its sibling. Writing from the quarantine in Argentina, I explore diverse expressions of precarity endemic to the free-market rule and their socially, racially and gendered stratified content in Argentina.
A consistent lack of investment in essential infrastructure, such as housing and access to clean water both in rural regions and the growing shanty-towns in metropolitan areas, turn standardized measures for bringing the pandemic under control, such as social distancing and frequent hand-washing, utopian. Alternative measures adopted by the Argentine government, such as ‘communal quarantine’ of the most at risk impoverished neighbourhoods, have further accentuated sharp class divisions in a country where the working poor initially identified Covid-19 as a disease of the rich.
Responses to the crisis become points of contention that galvanise the agency of diverse social actors. Couriers, now recognized as ‘essential workers’, have been thrusted into the frontline of the struggle against precarious labour relations. They reveal the trials and tribulations of collective organisation from the sphere of precarity.
I contend that the condition of pervasive precarity has backfired from the perspective of managing global health crises such as this pandemic. General quarantine in this context either jeopardizes the livelihood of many or is ineffective, a conundrum which has forced the state to bail out economically active sectors or risk losing political legitimacy; it led to Argentina defaulting (again) on its foreign debt. Arguably, the pandemic also reveals the precarious core of a global economy increasingly reliant on debt restructuring and volatile finance capital. Cautioning against mechanical positivism, I conclude that the pandemic sharpens the ideological and class content of ‘solutions’ for the post-pandemic society as contested fields.