The Human Body Must Be Defended: A Foucauldian and Latourian Take on COVID-19

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Bert De Munck

Published Mar 31, 2021


Ecologists and environmentalists have tried to interfere in the debate about the COVID-19 pandemic with the aim of transcending the approaches of virologists and epidemiologists. While the views of virologists and epidemiologists are often limited to the virus as an isolated organic element, those of ecologists and environmentalists mostly connect it to environmental issues such as the destruction of wild life habitats. This is valuable, but a broader view is also necessary with regard to how the virus is received and dealt with. This essay will frame the scientific and political responses to SARS-CoV-2 within a long-term perspective, not by simply pointing at the historical precedents of the quarantine and hygienic measures, but by historicizing and denaturalizing the scientific and political rationales behind them. As this inevitably includes the way in which science and politics interact, I will have recourse to the work of both Bruno Latour and Michel Foucault, which enables the conceptual and analytical framing of the virus and the rationalities of governance related to it to be unpacked. While Latour’s ideas help explain why the virus is framed as an isolated natural organism which threatens to invade the human body from the outside, Foucauldian concepts reveal the specific forms of governance and political subjectivity involved - which are predicated on discourses of danger and ‘security dispositives’. Jointly these views explain why, in contrast to the ideas of climatologists, the models of virologists and epidemiologists are followed almost unconditionally.

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