EPIDEMICS AND OTHERING: THE BIOPOLITICS OF COVID-19 IN HISTORICAL AND CULTURAL PERSPECTIVES
The SARS-CoV-2 pandemic has impacted the globe for more than a year. This development sparked renewed interest in the historical, sociocultural, political, and economic aspects of epidemics and pandemics, currently evidenced by an outpouring of scholarship on the consequences of the current pandemic on the world’s population as well as social and economic structures. This symposium provides a forum specifically for the study of the sociocultural developments that lead to “Othering” in situations of a perceived crisis. Aiming at bringing together multi- and interdisciplinary, scholarly approaches to the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic, we invite papers that examine the processes of “Othering” in relation to a long human history of epidemics and pandemics and the myriad social, political, philosophical, medical, artistic, literary, filmic, and poetic representations and reactions that have produced and/or challenged such Othering dynamics.
The concept of Othering, originating in feminist and postcolonial theories, characterizes hegemonic processes of marking the supposed differences between a superior “We” and an inferior “Other.” Othering processes often function to (re)produce social hierarchies and power relations by constructing marginalized groups as Other while simultaneously constructing the normative self. Epidemics and pandemics like Covid-19 produce and amplify Othering practices and systemic discrimination. Hence, marginalized communities have not only been disproportionately affected by the current pandemic both medically and economically, but public, private, and media discourses have projected fear of the disease onto the social or cultural-ethnic Other, fostering for example, orientalism, xenophobia and racism, ageism, and ableism. In the need to “make sense” of a senseless epidemic, long-established tropes of cultural Othering, including essentialist narratives about cultural and national identity, have successfully been mobilized in this and in prior epidemics to support biopolitical interests. Historically, this dynamic has been intensified in times of increased mobility, which multiplies the perceived risk of contagion by the Other, and is accompanied by a rhetoric of crisis, anti-globalism, and isolationism. Yet, definitions of the Other are contingent and can be instrumentalized by various groups and discursive formations to different effects. A plethora of conspiracy theories/ideologies, protests against lockdown regulations across the political spectrum, and shifting public attitudes and media framings of medical authorities and vaccination policies reveal the complex configurations of the biopolitics of Otherness.
This symposium aims at analyzing key factors and cultural narratives that contribute to Othering discourses in the course of Covid-19 and in previous pandemics and epidemics (“real” and “imagined”) from the eighteenth to the twenty-first century. The symposium will put a geographical emphasis on North America, the Atlantic World, and transatlantic relations, but welcomes contributions that expand this spatial focus to different world regions in order to create a more globally representative and more nuanced knowledge on the historical and current cultural, sociopolitical, economic, and literary narratives and media representations of epidemics and pandemics.
Topics of possible contributions include, but are not limited to: