ICS Seminar Series

Event Name
ICS Seminar Series
23 April 2020
11:30 am - 01:00 pm

Address (Room): This seminar will be hosted online via Zoom. Please join via the following link: https://uws.zoom.us/j/93508729309


This is the third week in which the Institute for Culture and Society focuses on the social and cultural consequences of COVID-19. Over the past few months, the world has become fixated on epidemiological curves, death statistics, zoonotic spill-overs, and ‘social distancing’. We all now know that new statistics will be generated with every day’s political pronouncements. At the same time, in the name of saving human lives, others are being sacrificed, blamed, and reviled. We have bypassed, for example, the fact that ‘billions of poultry have been killed all over the world to eradicate potentially pandemic pathogens from jumping over the species barriers’. Yes, the number quoted is billions.

Here ideological presumptions rework questions of the sacred and the profane, the powerful and the weak, and come together to confirm deep modern prejudices. ‘Wet markets’ are to blame. Relating to domestic and wild animals is dangerous. Travellers, strangers, and peoples with strange customs are to be feared.

In the spirit of our previous ‘thinking in common’ sessions, this seminar seeks to get beyond the mass of information we receive everyday through constant news updates. It brings in some voices from other places.

Please join us on Zoom at 11.30am on Thursday 23 April to continue this conversation. After an opening presentation from the Chair, participants will be randomly distributed into smaller break out groups for roughly 30 minutes to discuss (one or all of) these selected readings. Groups will be asked to nominate a facilitator/rapporteur. We will reconvene into a plenary discussion for the final 30 minutes to consider how the impacts of the coronavirus currently hit the vulnerable in our diverse worlds.

Readings and Biographies

These three readings are only short, and they only begin to evoke the issues, but they are intended to open up areas that is not currently part of the mainstream discussion.

Arundhati Roy: ‘The Pandemic is a Portal’

Roy, author of the Man Booker Prize novel The God of Small Things, describes how ‘Indian towns and megacities, in response to the lockdown, began to extrude their working-class citizens like so much unwanted accrual They knew they were going home potentially to slow starvation.’

Achille Mbembe, ‘the Universal Right to Breathe’.

Mbembe is author of Brutalisme (Paris, 2020). This short essay continues the work of a major scholar on the brutalism of digital modernity. He is concerned that in ‘the aftermath of this calamity there is a danger that rather than offering sanctuary to all living species, sadly the world will enter a new period of tension and brutality’. This will happen as many people ‘seek to conceal the constitutive violence that they continue to habitually direct at the most vulnerable’.

Christos Lynterios and Lyle Fearnely, ‘Why Shutting down Chinese “Wet markets” Could Be a Terrible Mistake’.

Lynteris and Fearnley are medical anthropologists from Scotland and Singapore respectively. They suggest that ‘based on the latest data suggesting a significant number of early cases of coronavirus without links to the Huanan Seafood Market, several infectious disease experts have raised doubts about whether the market was the source of the novel coronavirus at all’.

Web page: https://www.westernsydney.edu.au/ics/events