The Covid-19 pandemic has created a generation of amateur epidemiologists, as people try to understand how a microscopic threat circulates through society. As they imagine the spread of this “invisible monster,” they project their fears of the virus onto groups in society that they imagine are spreading it, whose bodies or actions become the visible face of an invisible pathogen. Superstition and science share a common language and symbol system, and racism, classism, heterosexism, ageism, and other forms of bias against social others are couched in the language of care (“we need to contain those people to protect Grandma”). Government lockdown laws make assumptions about “typical” households that exclude other social configurations and forms of intimacy, and they have been energetically enforced by citizens via social media shaming and police tip lines, creating new forms of social surveillance, state-citizen alliances, and interventions into intimate lives. Contagion thus forces values, morals, and the ethics of conduct into the debate about how we should live together during a pandemic. This project will use a mix of digital ethnography, citizen science, interviews and participant observation in Australia, Ireland, and New Zealand to generate comparative data on pandemic imaginaries and state-society configurations in three countries. It seeks to understand how beliefs about infectious disease inform people’s health-protective behavior, how they inform imaginations of otherness, and how people envision the relationship between state and citizens in protecting society during the pandemic.
Associate Professor, Department of Anthropology, Macquarie University
Lecturer, Maynooth University
Associate Professor, University of Auckland