Posted Tuesday April 7, 2020


Collection of essays co-edited by Laurier professors cuts through emotion to cast critical lens on COVID-19 response

Two Wilfrid Laurier University professors have co-edited a “rapid response collection” of 10 essays by Canadian scholars that examine societal and governmental reactions to the COVID-19 outbreak. Writing in the Midst of the COVID-19 Pandemic: From Vulnerability to Solidarity was written, edited and published in less than two weeks in order to cast a critical eye on this historic event during its early stages.

Co-editors Penelope Ironstone, associate professor in Laurier’s Department of Communication Studies, and Greg Bird, associate professor of Sociology, felt an urgent need to react to the pandemic as it unfolded.

“During the Spanish flu pandemic in the early 1900s, people were so busy with the work of living that they didn’t capture the moment until after it happened,” said Ironstone. “With COVID-19, we are already seeing dramatic, rapid changes happening around us and we need to reflect on them as quickly as possible. In a period of heightened panic, the critical gaze is even more essential.”

The essay collection explores a range of topics including how fear is motivating people to willingly give up their civil rights, the lack of preparedness by nations that have had ample warning that a pandemic was inevitable, and how COVID-19 is disproportionately impacting disenfranchised populations. Each author examines the COVID-19 pandemic through the lens of biopolitics – a field in social and political theory that studies how life has been politicized and controlled in modern societies – in language that is accessible to a general audience.

“It’s important to share different perspectives that challenge the narrow perspectives we’re hearing in the mainstream media,” said Bird, who writes about “extensive overreach by the biomedical establishment” in influencing government policy. “Governments should be consulting a broader range of experts with different sets of knowledge. There are too few people making major decisions about how we live our lives.”

Neil Balan, an instructor in Laurier’s Women and Gender Studies program, is among the contributors to the collection. His essay compares the COVID-19 response to strategies used by Western governments during foreign wars, warning that the “‘rule of law’ reveals its arbitrary capacity: it can always be suspended.”

Bird and Ironstone were careful to highlight many positive consequences of the COVID-19 outbreak, celebrating actions of community solidarity and how the current spirit of common good can translate to other urgent issues facing the planet.

“It’s encouraging to see humans acting with such compassion and making sacrifices for the most vulnerable members of our society,” said Bird. “We hope these touching moments become part of a broader movement as we act together to address issues like climate change.”

Writing in the Midst of the COVID-19 Pandemic is available online at no cost through Topia, a cultural studies journal published by the University of Toronto Press.
Excerpts from Writing in the Midst of the COVID-19 Pandemic:

“We have been warned for decades now that we are long overdue for the next ‘big one’… If SARS was a dress rehearsal for what could happen with the emergence of a novel coronavirus, it was one whose lessons were not fully embraced.”

- Penelope Ironstone, The Pandemic is (Extra) Ordinary

“What we are witnessing is an extensive overreach by the biomedical establishment, which in many cases has been granted almost unchecked control over the formal political and legal mechanisms in our societies, the right to let live and make die… There is, to be clear, nothing democratic about the governmental reaction to this pandemic.”

- Greg Bird, Biomedical Apparatuses or Conviviality?

“We now see stories about prominent epidemiologists disagreeing about the degree and level of the response… We also notice that the necessity of drastic measures is already secondary to the wider momentum of such measures. Not responding brings charges of deviance, pathology, and criminality. One must be recklessly irresponsible, illicit, illiberal, illogical, and (in some cases) illegal to do nothing and to pay no heed.”

- Neil Balan, Government-in-a-Box, or Understanding Pandemic Measures as Biopolitics

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