Foucault News

News and resources on French thinker Michel Foucault (1926-1984)

COVID-19 Essays TOPIA: Canadian Journal of Cultural Studies, March 23, 2020

Editorial Introduction: Writing in the Midst of the COVID-19 Pandemic: From Vulnerability to Solidarity

This is a rapid response collection of essays. In the evening on Sunday, March 15 we began contacting Canadian-based scholars working in the field of biopolitics to write a short, biopolitically-inspired essay that critically interrogates some aspect of the COVID-19 outbreak. We sent a skeletal proposal to the editors of Topia and University of Toronto Press the following day. Our contributors had a tight time-line. They were asked to submit a draft by noon on Thursday, March 19. Each author was also responsible for reviewing and copy-editing at least two other essays that same evening. Revisions were due on Friday, March 20. Over the weekend the papers were copy-edited and the entire collection was sent into production on Monday, March 23. This was an incredibly tight schedule. A few of our contributors who joined us mid-week had even less time.

We ask the reader to bear with us—there may be mistakes, half-thoughts, even contradictory statements. The point of this exercise was to provide alternative perspectives on what is unfolding and to do so while early in the throes of an unfolding pandemic. We were writing in the midst of the event itself. Just like everyone else, we were totally immersed, captivated, fearing and panicking, and feeling vulnerable. None of our contributors purport to understand what is happening—it hasn’t fully happened yet—and we are all struck by a sense of uncertainty. But each has sought to uncover patterns, feelings, structures, even boxes, that are emerging in the human response to this pandemic. It will take much more time for us to figure out what has taken place, and will continue to take place, in the name of this pandemic, but this doesn’t mean that we should set aside our critical gazes. In fact, in a period of heightened panic the critical gaze is even more essential. Power structures are being radically re-arranged in our society right now and if we lose our capacity to criticize the future may be beset by new, even more damning ones.

Finally, given the context that we are not only writing about but also living this pandemic, it is important to note that the tight schedule we used led to a number of people having to decline our offer, at least for now. Not everyone has the luxury, social conditions, even frame of mind, that would enable them to participate in this project at this point in time. Many scholars do not have the privilege to immediately sweep clear a significant portion of their days to embark on a last-minute and time-consuming writing project. This is to say, we know there are important voices missing here, and it is our hope that, as the dust settles, we will be able to include them in our future efforts to interrogate the significance of this pandemic. The rapid production of essays also placed extra burdens on the editors of Topia and for the production staff at University of Toronto Press. For this, we are thankful, as they opened up a space for an experiment in critical response that has, we hope you find, borne important, if preliminary and provisional, fruit.

While acknowledging the realities of those who could not participate, we do not wish to negate the efforts of our contributors, or our editorial labours, because producing a collection of essays within such a short period of time is hard work under the best conditions. We weren’t writing under these conditions. Everyone who participated in this collection genuinely contributed and collaborated to produce the final product and the conversation it represents. Different skills were deployed for different tasks. We were all involved in different ways. Significantly, in undergoing this project together, we have been able to forge a sense of solidarity. What we have produced in this solidarity is what we offer to you here, reflections on the COVID-19 pandemic that attempt to make sense of it. We are not offering concrete policy solutions or practical advice about how to manage a pandemic. For our society is already exhausted by official and expert discourse. Rather, we consider what might be lost in this pandemic, but also what could be carried forth into the future, especially the traces of our current vulnerability.

Greg Bird & Penelope Ironstone

Monday, March 23, 2020


1. Being in Common at a Distance by Elettra Stimilli

2. In the Distance by Philippe Theophanidis

3. Biopolitical Economies of the COVID-19 Pandemic by Jon Short

4. On Ways of Living in the Midst of the COVID-19 Global Pandemic (Three Brief Meditations) by John Paul Ricco

5. Crisis, Critique, and the Limits of What We Can Hear by Stuart J. Murray

6. The Pandemic is (Extra) Ordinary by Penelope Ironstone

7. The Biopolitics of Numbers by Victor Li

8. Uncanny Convergences: Mobility and Containment in the Time of Coronavirus by Roberta Buiani

9. Biomedical Apparatuses or Conviviality? by Greg Bird

10. Government-in-a-Box, or Understanding Pandemic Measures as Biopolitics by Neil Balan

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