COVID-19 Forum: Introduction

This article is part of the following series:

Since its emergence in December 2019, COVID-19 has led to a global pandemic, in everything but name. To date, over 100,000 people have been infected across the globe, with the vast majority of burden of the infection and of the 3,400 deaths so far being borne by China, where the disease originally emerged. There the epidemic has led to the adoption of quarantine and isolation measures at a historically unprecedented scale, as well as to the controversial employment of smartphone apps and other digital technologies in community containment. At the moment, with the disease having made significant in-ways in South Korea, Japan, Iran, and Italy, we are still no wiser as to the zoonotic origins of the disease, whereas information about its modes of transmission, basic reproduction number, incubation period, asymptomatic transmission (or not) and other key clinical and epidemiological aspects are constantly being debated and revised, leading to an environment of epistemic uncertainty and flux. At the same time, as scientists have been racing to provide real-time information on the epidemic, the social media have once again proved to be the insidious breeding grounds of fake-news, conspiracy theories, misinformation and disinformation about the virus, thus contributing to a broader environment of xenophobia, fear, and panic about the disease.

Somatosphere’s COVID-19 Forum brings together seventeen anthropologists and historians in an effort to share ideas, analytical frameworks and concerns about the ongoing epidemic from interdisciplinary perspectives. Unlike the recent Ebola epidemic in West Africa, where anthropological intervention on the ground and direct engagement with affected communities and response teams flourished between 2014 and 2016, in the case of COVID-19, such activities remain virtually a political and practical impossibility, at least as far as China is concerned. However, an analytical and critical engagement with the epidemic, both in China and across the globe, is still pertinent, not only so that ethnographic and historical context can be provided (and such context is indeed urgently needed in many cases), but also so that the wider social impact of the epidemic and of epidemic containment measures is understood, and critical tools are developed for engaging with the epidemic crisis in its complex social reality. The contributions to this Forum thus aim to examine the epidemic in itself, but also in comparison to other epidemics and epidemic-control processes. It is hoped that the Forum will foster interdisciplinary discussion and collaboration in response to the ongoing COVID-19 epidemic, and that it will inspire new critical and analytical approaches to the ways in which the new coronavirus epidemic is conceptualised, discussed, experienced and contained.

The COVID-19 Forum was edited by:

Christos Lynteris
University of St. Andrews


From Chain Reaction to Grid Reaction: Mobilities and Restrictions During the Epidemics of SARS and COVID-19
Biao Xiang
University of Oxford

Echoes of Ebola: Social and Political Warnings for the COVID-19 Response in African Settings
Melissa Leach
Institute of Development Studies

Sentinels and Whistleblowers: Lessons from Wuhan
Frédéric Keck
Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique / French National Centre for Scientific Research

Novelty and Uncertainty: Social Science Contributions to a Response to COVID-19
Hayley MacGregor
Institute of Development Studies

Shame and Complicity in the Reactions to the Coronavirus
Hans Steinmuller
London School of Economics

Covid-19, Sinicisation, and the Roman Catholic Church in China
Christine Lee
East China Normal University

Should Wild Meat Markets Be Shut Down?
Tamara Giles-Vernick
Institut Pasteur

#COVID19: The Spectacle of Real-Time Surveillance
Lukas Engelmann
University of Edinburgh

Coronavirus: The Low Tech of the High Tech
Robert Peckham
University of Hong Kong

Beyond Quarantine Critique
Alison Bashford
University of New South Wales

The Pandemic Epicenter:  Pointing from Viruses to China’s Wildlife Trade
Lyle Fearnley
Singapore University of Technology and Design

Virtual Technologies of Care in a Time of Viral Crisis: An Ethnographic View from Hong Kong
Priscilla Song and Joseph Walline
University of Hong Kong; Chinese University of Hong Kong

Didactic Historicism and the Historical Consciousness of Epidemics
Christos Lynteris
University of St. Andrews

Border Promiscuity, Illicit Intimacies, and Origin Stories: Or what Contagion’s Bookends Tell us About New Infectious Diseases and a Racialized Geography of Blame
Adia Benton
Northwestern University 

Counting coronavirus: delivering diagnostic certainty in a global emergency
Alice Street and Ann H. Kelly
University of Edinburgh; King’s College London

18 replies on “COVID-19 Forum: Introduction”

I am teaching at the University of Barcelona. I am very interested in receiving information. I am teaching classes on sociocultural epidemiology. A group of students will study the current situation in Barcelona due to the coronavirus.

It makes me go numb with fear when I think that poor surveillance and COVID -19 diagnostic methods in south Asia and Africa combined with high population density in these regions have reported only very few cases of COVID-19. Also, I have serious doubts about their capacity to quarantine infected patients and provide assisted ventillation to the needy infected population.

Hello. I am interested in joining this discussion forum. Let me present myself briefly. My doctoral research (2004) was about 1918 Pandemic Flu in Belo Horizonte, a Brazilian city. I teach History at the Federal University of Ouro Preto and intend to explore the Covid-9 experience in future research and courses. Otherwise, I believe the study about the pandemic in Brazil can be of interest for the forum as well. That experience is characterized by a specific context of substantial social inequalities and the continental size of this country. Moreover, our current national political context has been distinguished by an impressive anti-scientific attitude. However, that is not specific to Brazil, unfortunately.

Olá Anny,
também estou aqui com bastante interesse em investigar as possíveis consequências da pandemia de COVID-19 no Brasil e na América Latina.
Sou professor de Antropologia da Saúde no departamento de Ciências da Saúde da Universidade Federal de Santa Catarina.
Deixo meu contato para dialogarmos.

Um abraço

Olá João,
Terei o maior prazer em trocar impressões e informações.
É realmente uma experiência que se pode abordar de formas muito diversas.
Se te interessar, está havendo agora uma live de um pesquisador da Casa de Osvaldo Cruz no facebook página História em quarentena. É um pesquisador muito bom.

Estou à disposição.

Sou Teka, da etnia potyguara , mora na aldeia indigena aqui no semiarido do Nordeste. Estou lendo os textos produzidos por vices e estou achando muito interessante esse grupo com essa iniciativa. Aqui trabalhamos a medicina de tradição na cosmovisão dos potyguara do mundo novo hoje. Levamos isso para sala de aula também. Aldeia na escola e escola na aldeia. Tenho interesse de participar de eventos referente ao assunto de saúde, principalmente nesse período tão critico do coronavirus. Nos indígenas estamos todos amputados de casa para o roçado. Angaturamete

i am anthropologist from Ethiopia.This is a good initiative to exchange scholarly insights and experiences from the globe.How do you help us establishing similar anthropological forums in Ethiopia to contribute for controlling the pandemic as anthropologist.

[…] Somatosphere – Covid-19 ForumSomatosphere, un recurso sobre antropología médica, estudios sociales sobre la ciencia y la tecnología, psiquiatría cultural, psicología y bioética viene publicando una serie de textos originales sobre la Covid-19 organizados en forma de fórum. El primero de ellos se publicó el 6 de marzo de 2020, con contribuciones sobre varios lugares del mundo. El segundo, publicado el 6 de abril de 2020, contiene el texto COVID-19 and its Impact on the Roma Community: The Case of Spain. El tercer fórum se ha publicado el 14 de mayo de 2020. Los fórums son coordinados por Christos Lynteris, autor de estudios antropológicos e históricos sobre las enfermedades infecciosas. […]

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