Efforts to decentre the human in the humanities, arts, and social sciences have focused on the materiality and agency of a multiplicity of non-human actors. Among them, viruses have presented a potent test case for rethinking different logics of action, collective articulations, reconfigurations of the social. They have done so metaphorically—as rich descriptors of various social arrangements in motion that ‘go viral’–and quite literally, as vectors of contamination across geopolitical contexts.
This is not new: viruses and bacteria have continuously challenged our social arrangements and exposed existing forms of violence and social exclusion. We need look no further than the various forms of virulence associated with the AIDS-crisis (rampant homophobia, policies of social exclusion and pathologization, lack of access to health care and expertise) to see how pandemics force us to rethink our social and intimate arrangements and lives.
State responses to the coronavirus have shored up notions of “individual responsibility” (hand washing, self-quarantine) for the good of the “social.” This largely operates under the banner of “social distancing,” and while vital to curbing infection, also increases social isolation and precarity. These are the arrangements of global logistics, pandemic experts, state actors, and health care systems. They require new configurations of the social and the natural world, and a new panoply of ‘experts’ and ‘expertise’.
So what does COVID-19 teach us? What do we learn from its fierce viral energy? Its capacity to spread infinitely because its fatality is less significant than other viruses? How does it reconfigure our models of networks? Economies? Ecologies? Socialities?
What does the world order look like to a virus, and how–as feminist cultural thinkers and producers–might we play a role in visualizing its new arrangements of movement, of bodies, of objects? What are the limits of our forms of imagining connection? Contagion? Intimacy?
What other expertise might we draw on to curb infection rates and protect the most vulnerable among us? What other experts might be called upon? Artists? Architects? Cultural workers? Social justice organizers? Immigrants and refugees (who understand intimately the vulnerabilities of movement)? Queer youth (who know a thing or two about what social networks have kept them safe)? Labour organizers facing school and factory closings? What other arrangements might these other experts imagine?