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Accepted Paper:

Covid-19: Pandemic of Precarity  


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.

Panel P03
Care, patronage and control