Cookies

We use cookies to ensure that we give you the best experience on our website. You can change your cookie settings at any time. Otherwise, we'll assume you're OK to continue.

Durham University

Institute of Advanced Study

Past Events

Contagion, Covid-19, and Resilience Initial Scoping Meeting

7th July 2020, 09:30 to 12:30, Virtual

Numerous funding calls have been issued in response to the impact of the Covid-19. But they (unsurprisingly) focus on immediate contributions to the ‘war effort’, like vaccination and accelerated manufacturing. The specific focus on Covid-19 now needs to be supplemented by an emphasis on historical contextualisation and a more expansive array of intellectual approaches, both empirical and theoretical, pulling in adjacent questions of cultural ecology, communication and transmission, and treating Covid as just one instance of life in an age of multiple modes of (viral, informational, market) contagion and environmental instability. The IAS seeks in response to bring together all angles on contagion and its wider horizons within the Durham community and beyond, with a view to discussing broader yet also deeper questions of biological, social, cultural, economic and political vitality and resilience. One chief goal will be an intellectually coherent framework for rebuilding society, and for the strategic co-ordination of funding bids aimed in that direction.

An initial virtual scoping event will take place on Tuesday 7 July, at 09:30-12:30, followed by a seminar series and workshops next year. For the scoping event, we ask colleagues interested in pitching topics for discussion to submit short (max. 1 page) proposals, and to be willing to present ideas informally on the day. Colleagues are invited to send expressions of interest and proposals to: enquiries.ias@durham.ac.uk. A Zoom link and password for July 7 will be sent out to anyone requesting attendance.

Some 6 months into the Covid-19 pandemic, it is evident that the disease demands to be studied not just through the natural sciences, but holistically, from multiple interdisciplinary perspectives, including those of the humanities and social sciences, able to bring cultural and political nuance to questions of pathogenicity, modelling, and disaster management. Like the smaller-scale epidemics of SARS and MERS that preceded it, the emergence of Covid-19 is inseparable from our consumerist, globalised and Anthropocenic lifestyles. It is bound up, for example, with industrialised food production, from the habitat encroachment of agribusiness, to the ‘wet markets’ that sell off displaced species and ‘megafarms’, which, through mass selective-breeding, provide hotbeds of contagion while simultaneously eliminating biodiverse pockets of viral resistance (Wallace 2016). It is apparent, too, that contagion exacerbates, and is exacerbated by, social, ethnic and gender inequality: diet and the obesity that makes us susceptible to potentially fatal cytokine storms (Luzi & Radaelli 2020); other ‘non-communicable diseases’, ranging from diabetes and mental health to the impact of poverty and local levels of air pollution (Ogen 2020); and, in the management of the pandemic, neoliberal austerity, the precarity of not just employment, but also of housing, domestic stability, and access to clean water. The proliferation of Coronavirus across the globe equally invites investigation of the entanglement between viral contagion proper and ‘complex contagions’ of behaviour (Guilbeault, Becker & Centola 2018), including the spread of anxiety, digital misinformation (Hui 2020), and conspiracy theories touching on origin, alternative technological causes, vaccination and the politics of social control. On this front, comparisons with earlier epidemics and alternative technologies of communication will likely prove fertile. Increasingly visible cultural differences in response to SARS-CoV-2 raise further questions about the relationship between critical thresholds and the immunological structures of society (Sloterdijk 1998); the psychology of population adjustment; the politics of sacrificing freedoms (Agamben 2020); and the fabric of trust in governments (Fukuyama 2020).

Numerous funding calls have been issued in response to the impact of the virus. But they (unsurprisingly) focus on immediate contributions to the ‘war effort’, like vaccination and accelerated manufacturing. The specific focus on Covid-19 now needs to be supplemented by an emphasis on historical contextualisation and a more expansive array of intellectual approaches, both empirical and theoretical, pulling in adjacent questions of cultural ecology, communication and transmission, and treating Covid as just one instance of life in an age of multiple modes of (viral, informational, market) contagion and environmental instability. The IAS seeks in response to bring together all angles on contagion and its wider horizons within the Durham community and beyond, with a view to discussing broader yet also deeper questions of biological, social, cultural, economic and political vitality and resilience. One chief goal will be an intellectually coherent framework for rebuilding society, and for the strategic co-ordination of funding bids aimed in that direction.

KEYWORDS: Anthropocene, austerity, contagion, diversity, liberty, pathogenicity, pollution, precarity, resilience, transmission.

An initial virtual scoping event will take place on Tuesday 7 July, at 09:30-12:30, followed by a seminar series and workshops next year. For the scoping event, we ask colleagues interested in pitching topics for discussion to submit short (max. 1 page) proposals, and to be willing to present ideas informally on the day. Proposals will be made available to all via OneDrive, where we will also house a library of relevant research articles.

Colleagues are invited to send expressions of interest and proposals to: enquiries.ias@durham.ac.uk. A Zoom link and password for July 7 will be sent out to anyone requesting attendance.

Contact enquiries.ias@durham.ac.uk for more information about this event.

Related Links