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Overview of COVID-19 Fall 2021 Books


For a certain time this spring it was as if we could have turned a corner. Things seemed to be entering a new phase that I considered “pre-post-COVID”. The disrupted routines and ambient tension of the previous year have not gone away. But the masks started to come off, and you might imagine being able to refer to the pandemic in the past without a tempting sense of fate.

Three or four months later, the pre-post-COVID era seems to continue indefinitely. The worst is over, hopefully, but intensive care units are again overcrowded. It’s reasonable to make travel plans for November or December, but not without a pang of heart. I can’t stop remembering a scene from comedian and musician Bo Burnham’s Netflix special Inside. A one-man multimedia production that he created in isolation during confinement, it would earn him a place in posterity if only for the song “Welcome to the Internet.” Inside never explicitly mentions the coronavirus, but brilliantly evokes the number of people who have faced it. (Or didn’t, sometimes.)

The part I have in mind comes in a Sesame Street-style skit featuring a sock puppet with a decidedly awakened take on how the world works. Burnham asks him where he was. “I have been where I always am when you are not carrying me on your hand,” Socko replies. “In a frightening liminal space between states of being – not quite dead, not quite alive. It’s similar to a constant state of sleep paralysis!”

This is the pre-post-COVID condition, okay – stuck between states of being. A number of scholarly press titles take advantage of this uncertain time to assess the situation, often with a view to considering what might ensue. Here is a brief overview of a few of them.

Doreen Dodgen-Magee Reboot: Designing a Healthy Post-Pandemic Life (Rowman & Littlefield, October) suggest that “over a year [spent] too dependent on our technology, unable to spend time safely socially and in relation to others “has exacerbated social anxiety and” the tendency to avoid embarrassment in embodied spaces [that] were increasing before the pandemic. “Studies have confirmed that face-to-face interaction is necessary for human development, so that” the social isolation from which we come will have profound and lasting effects on us, unless we actively work to re-enter the community. living healthily. “The enormous cult following Burnham’s special in just two months is largely a matter of focusing on these concerns. The author seems considerably more optimistic. She proposes that” the daily reopening to the world in – a person’s life “can be channeled into” creating[ing] healthier relationships with technology, our social connections and ourselves. (The passages quoted here and below are taken from publicity material for the respective titles.)

In You bet your life: from blood transfusions to mass vaccination, the long and risky history of medical innovation (Basic Books, September), Paul A. Offit, MD, assesses four centuries of efforts to introduce new treatments. His chronicle of “the tortured relationship between intellectual advancement, political realities and human weaknesses” emphasizes that “understanding risks is crucial to knowing whether, as a society or as individuals, we accept them”. The recent experience “has shown us, with its debates on containments, masks and vaccines, how easy it is to go wrong.”

Foresight is not enough. Sandro Galea Contagion next time (Oxford University Press, October) takes into account that no one has predicted when and where the COVID pandemic will strike. But “we knew that a pandemic would strike sooner or later” and that the extremes of “racism, marginalization [and] socio-economic inequalities “were expected to worsen the impact when they arose. The lesson that” failure to tackle these forces has made us vulnerable to COVID-19 and the ensuing global health crisis “should draw attention to “the fundamental forces that shape health in our society and how we can strengthen them to prevent the next epidemic from turning into a pandemic. “

Quite true. But demagoguery after the fact is so much easier. Zhou Xun and Sander L. Gilman’s I know who caused COVID-19 “: Pandemics and xenophobia (Reaktion, October) examines four cases of how specific groups have been targeted as having “caused and spread” the coronavirus: “residents of Wuhan and black African communities in China; ultra-Orthodox Jewish communities in the US, UK and Israel; African Americans in the United States and black / Asian / mixed ethnic communities in the United Kingdom; and right-wing white groups in the United States and Europe. The comparative study examines “the stereotypes and false attribution of blame towards these groups, as well as what happens when a collective is really at fault.”

As a genre of scholarly publishing, the collection of multi-author articles seems particularly suited to responding to a complex global situation. Mohammad Gharipour and Caitlin DeClercq, editors of Epidemic urbanism: contagious diseases in cities around the world (Intellect Books, December), bring together contributors from “history, public health, sociology, anthropology and medicine” to examine “how cities are not only the primary places of exposure and quarantine but also the site and the intervention instrument ”.

Contributors to Exposures to the pandemic: economy and society in the time of the coronavirus (HAU, distributed by University of Chicago Press, November), edited by Didier Fassin and Marion Fourcade, take up “the complexity of the entanglements that the crisis has created and revealed not only between health and wealth but also around morality, knowledge, of governance, culture and daily subsistence. “The viral legacy is one of the” disruptions “that” have both accelerated the rise of new social divisions and hardened old inequalities and dilemmas. “

Drawing attention to the prospects for humanities in China, Jiang Jiehong The otherness of everyday life: twelve conversations from the Chinese art world during the Covid-19 pandemic (Intellect Books, also distributed by the University of Chicago Press, July) collects dialogues with personalities from “anthropology, architecture, art, conservation, fashion, film, literature, media, museums, music and photography ”as they responded to the crisis in the summer of 2020. Participants“ explore the threat of the invisible; notions of distance and spatialization, separation and isolation, communication and mobility, discipline and surveillance, and community and collective; and China’s changing relationship with the rest of the world ”.

To finish, two volumes take up the pandemic as a case of systemic crisis requiring systemic responses undertaken with very uneven success. Based on “years of working alongside public health and resilience experts to develop policies to prepare for both pandemics and climate change,” Alice C. Hill’s The fight for the climate after COVID-19 (Oxford University Press, August) considers the pandemic and climate change to be a “threat multiplier[s], increasing vulnerability to damage, economic impoverishment and the collapse of social systems ”, with“ deep uncertainty as to when they will happen, how they will unfold and how much damage they will cause ”. The author “exposes parallels between the measures governments should have taken to contain the spread of COVID-19 – such as early actions, cross-border planning and strengthening emergency preparedness – and the measures leaders can take now to mitigate the impacts of climate change. “

Likewise, Danielle Allen Democracy in the time of the coronavirus (University of Chicago Press, September) highlights how the pandemic exposed “our government’s failure to rapidly develop and implement strategies to trace and contain epidemics as well as widespread public distrust of government provoked by often confusing and contradictory choices “. The challenge, as the author understands it, is to establish “a more resilient democratic regime … that can better respond to both the current pandemic and future crises.”

She pleads “for the relative effectiveness of collaborative federalism over authoritarian constraint and for the unifying power of a common cause.” No Exit.”