Lecture Series

The shakes explored

Review of auf "Troubling Psyche[s] – Affects and Struggles in the Pandemic".

By Julia Manek and Usche Merk

Shortly before the kick-off event, Rita Segato sent an email. The feminist intellectual wrote that, unfortunately, she would have to cancel her contribution for the very first session of the Troubling Psyche[s]: "I have to go to the USA, but I am not allowed to enter because here in Argentina I got vaccinated with the Sputnik vaccine. This is why now I have to quickly fly to Brazil for a vaccination with Johnson & Johnson. Sending you a hug." The Covid pandemic threw the lecture series itself into turmoil: In more than one way, its name became programmatic.

The series, which was organized by medico together with the Institute for Social Research and the Institute for Human Geography, focused on the psychosocial dimensions and affective "side effects" of the pandemic in the political sphere – from fears and feelings of powerlessness, grief and depression to anger and longing. To what extent did these affects become catalysts of political debates and political movements and vice versa? Eleven speakers from six continents explored the political affects at well-attended virtual events from October 2021 to February 2022. While the paradigmatic abandonment of physical proximity and the forced digitality of the series seemed regrettable, Koketso Moeti from South Africa emphasized that being in today's world is anyway shaped by the fact that "online" and "offline" are inextricably intertwined. Yet, the digital sphere is by no means "neutral" or even emancipatory per se. Racist algorithms riddle it. Therefore, Tobias Matzner stressed the necessity of fighting for alternative platforms - a struggle that in times of a global pandemic becomes more important than ever. Affirming this, Djamila Ribeiro stressed that in Brazil, racism – which she made clear, does surprisingly not even exist according to the official state narrative – has been massively fuelled by social networks. Nevertheless, especially during the pandemic, progressive social movements organized themselves primarily in one place: online. This is where the lecture series created a virtual space with tangible effects. Many audience members and speakers reported moments of emotional touch and hope. 

But at first, hope seemed unattainable, given the intensification of inequalities and injustices in the [poly]pandemic, especially in the places commonly referred to as the "Global South." In her interview, Rita Segato even spoke of the "apocalyptic" phase of capital expressed in today’s appropriation of all life as a mere thing. In such a scenario, where laws are powerless to control and restrain the owners of huge parts of the world because they accumulate power, capital and land in an extreme way, simply talking about "inequality" is no longer enough.

Mpumi Zondi from South Africa made it clear that the experience of the pandemic intimately intertwines with structural and patriarchal violence. As a result, other crises and psychological impositions are dramatically exacerbated, especially for poor, Black women. Invisible to the naked eye remain not only domestic violence but also the compulsion to take out loans, e.g. for buying food, and what it means to be in debt. Here as there, the threat to rendering breathing impossible and destroying livelihoods manifests. Sociologist Vanessa E. Thompson linked the way in which the virus makes breathing impossible to racist (police) violence and, ultimately, colonial exploitation. In the face of the assault on (not merely the good but even the bare) life and the targeted killing of racialized and feminized bodies, even the struggle for everyday survival constitutes a form of resistance. As much as violence and destruction are frightening, yet, they are not able to suppress rage and rebellion.

Similar to the resistance of the Black Lives Matter movement against racist murders, grief & anger accompany the anti-patriarchal mass protests #NiUnaMenos. Elsa Dorlin explicated the exploitation of bodies and nature as patriarchal terrorism. Against it, there is no choice but self-defence. However, feminist self-defence presupposes a self that reaches beyond the "I" and targets a collective "we." It is clear, as Verónica Gago emphasized, that self-defence must be collective and in solidarity: "I am protected by my friends, not by the police. We are about defending the resources of life - nature, the body, and solidary, caring relationships that defend the vulnerability of (dignified) life."

While optimistic perspectives named care as a central element of social change, Julia Dück critically pointed out that "care" is not resistant per se. Instead, rationalized and maximally exploited, medical care work and unpaid reproductive care work are the "cement" that keeps the world – and the system of exploitation and inequality – from falling apart. Nevertheless, the material conditions themselves also produce resistance against them. Against exploitation and out of solidarity and concern for and about each other, the longing for another world may ignite sparks of hope for uprisings. Nadia Mahmood showed this in the role of the revolutionary women's movement in Iraq, which in particular countered the massive repression with relations of solidarity. The perspective of self-defence must have staying power. Clemencia Correa added a militant horizon: "The pandemic will eventually be over. The violence will continue."

The question of a "we" accompanied all sessions. Throughout the pandemic, is there some kind of shared subjectivity, shared experience, or shared longing, despite the different experiences and perspectives? How do resistant spaces of empathy and solidarity emerge? The point is to develop alternative ways of relating out of the in-between spaces, which can be the basis for collectively fighting for a "revolution for life" from different places and perspectives, said philosopher Eva von Redecker.

Hope remained rare. But in the face of the epochal ruptures caused by pandemic and war, the desire to connect, and to continue the transnational conversation across all inequalities, articulated itself. It emphasized the longing for a world in solidarity and worth living in, the ongoing search for it and the struggle for it continue.

The lecture series explores global politics of affect and psychosocial struggles for health and justice in pandemic times. The series of events takes a global look at new subjectivities. It asks what the pandemic has done to "us". Who will "we" have become? At the same time, it is about the differentiation of this "we" and the extremely different forms of subjectivation in a patriarchal, postcolonial and unequal world.

Published: 29. March 2022

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