CriticalTimes

Critical Times seeks to reflect on and facilitate the work of transnational intellectual networks that draw upon critical theory and political practice across various world regions.

  • Paradoxes of the Crisis: The Pandemic Has Generated an Explosion of Domestic Debts in Argentina
    https://ctjournal.org/2021/01/12/paradoxes-of-the-crisis

    Translated by Tara Phillips First published in Página 12 on October 4, 2020. Unpaid debts for rents and utilities, including electricity, water, gas, and internet access, grew at an accelerated rate during the months of social distancing meant to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus. Currently, feminized and precarized economies are the preferred objects of indebtedness.

  • To Appear in Times of Pandemic
    https://ctjournal.org/2020/12/07/to-appear-in-times-of-pandemic

    According to Hannah Arendt, if the inside of the body “were to appear, we would all look alike.” If we could see the insides of bodies, they would validate the claim that we are indistinguishable, since we are all subject to the same requirements for the maintenance of life and face the same exposure to disease and death. The philosopher makes this observation to explain that our being of the world cannot be understood as a simple being in the world, reduced to our organic nature or our status as biological bodies. For Arendt, and contrary to a popular belief in ethology, life is not only the external appearance of something interior, since surface effects (such as plumage) are much more differentiated than their internal, organic causes and therefore cannot be simply their secondary (...)

  • On Civil War
    https://ctjournal.org/2020/09/09/on-civil-war

    Politics today is nothing short of civil war. The driving question is no longer so much whether this or that conflict is a civil war but what political work the notion of “civil war” is being exercised to do. States descend into civil wars when contrasting conceptions of life within them are deemed irreconcilable. Living, for a considerable proportion of the state’s inhabitants, is made unbearable. Those at least nominally controlling the state apparatus insist on obedience and deference to its way of being, on pain of erasure. Civil wars are struggles over competing ways of being in the world, over their underlying conceptions, over control of the state and its apparatuses to materialize and advance these (...)

  • On Time
    https://ctjournal.org/2020/07/13/on-time

    Translated and introduced by Alex Brostoff. On March 6, 2020, at the seventh annual São Paulo International Theater Exhibition (Mostra Internacional de Teatro de São Paulo), a panel on “Anticolonial Perspectives” convened around the question, “What can we still imagine together?” At the opening roundtable, “On Time,” Brazilian Indigenous intellectual and activist Ailton Krenak addressed the occasion and its audience directly. In the remarks that follow, transcribed by Sonia Sobral, Krenak theorizes the polysemic possibilities and ambivalent effects of the encontro, a Portuguese term for an “encounter,” “meeting,” “assembly,” or “conference.” At once imbricated in ongoing colonial practices and imbued with the potentials of a collective subject, the encontro both intensifies and deters ecological (...)

  • The Social Contract and the Game of Monopoly: Listening to Kimberly Jones on Black Lives
    https://ctjournal.org/2020/06/29/the-social-contract-and-the-game-of-monopoly-listening-to-kimberly-jones-

    As Derek Chauvin pressed his knee into George Floyd’s neck for eight minutes and forty-six seconds, the United States was poised to cross the threshold of 100,000 COVID deaths. We were grieving those who lost their lives to the virus, cut off from friends and family, gasping for breath alone in emergency rooms, nursing or private homes, detention centers, on the streets....We were holding our breaths as we read the daily toll of the pandemic, disproportionately taking Black and Brown lives. Far from being a “great equalizer,” #Covid-19 reveals the virulence of structural racism. African Americans are dying of the virus at three times the rate of white people in America. As some official channels urged us to follow the protocols of social distancing and physical isolation in the interests (...)

  • “Corona” and the Moral Economy of Life
    https://ctjournal.org/2020/06/23/corona-and-the-moral-economy-of-life

    We can find an insight useful to understanding the coronavirus pandemic and the policies devised to contain its spread in the work of French sociologist, Maurice Halbwachs, who was arrested by the Gestapo in Paris in July 1944 and died as a result of brutal work conditions in the Buchenwald concentration camp in March 1945. A year prior to the onset of WWI, Halbwachs writes in his essay “La Théorie de l’homme moyen. Essai sur Quetelet et la statistique morale” (1913) that “death and the age at which it occurs are above all a result of life and the circumstances in which life has developed.” These circumstances, he continues, are “at least as social as they are physical.” There are, thus, “good reasons to assume that a society has the mortality rate it deserves, and the number of deaths and (...)

    #Covid-19

  • Chinese Capitalism and #Covid-19
    https://ctjournal.org/2020/06/10/chinese-capitalism-and-covid-19

    As the origin point of COVID-19, Wuhan became the stage of many tragedies. In a country where all college students are still required to take a course based on a textbook called Introduction to the Basic Principles of Marxism, the government’s response has exposed the hypocrisy of the phrase often used to describe the system as “socialism with Chinese characteristics.” [Read More]

  • Freedom in Quarantine
    https://ctjournal.org/2020/05/26/freedom-in-quarantine

    The whole world is in lockdown. Or is it?Due to the #Covid-19 pandemic, we have seen some unprecedented measures imposed by governments across the world. These governments have closed down entire cities or even countries in order to “flatten the curve” and slow the spread of the deadly virus, because, unlike us, the virus is free; it traverses social strata and national boundaries. We need to check its freedom by putting our own freedom to move and to gather in quarantine. This, historians have told us, is an ancient way of combating contagious diseases. We are also reminded, in different ways—some benevolent, some outright racist—that after all in liberal democracies “we are not like the Chinese,” who allegedly can only obey their government’s dictates. This Chinese exceptionalism obscures (...)

  • Borders in Times of Pandemic

    A pandemic is never just a pandemic. Over the past few weeks, it has become evident how the spread and impact of the novel Coronavirus is profoundly shaped by social and political practices – such as tourism and travel – institutions – such as governments and their advisors – and structures – such as inequalities along the lines of class, race and gender. All of these are part of systems that are historically variable and subject to human agency. The international border regime is one such system. While it is an obvious truth that the virus’s spread does not respect any borders, governments across the world have resorted to closing their borders, more or less explicitly likening the threat of the virus to the “threat” of “uncontrolled” migration.

    This kind of disaster nationalism – the nationalist impulse to circle the wagons in the face of a transnational challenge – could be countered by insisting that we are witnessing a pandemic in the literal sense, i.e., a health crisis that affects not just a part of the population, but all (pan) people (demos), thus highlighting the inefficiency of the border regime. But this insistence that humanity itself is the subject of the pandemic only tells half the truth as the precarity and vulnerability the pandemic imposes on people is distributed in a radically unequal fashion. The virus hits workers in underpaid jobs, in supermarkets, hospitals, delivery services, and informal care, as well as the homeless and the imprisoned in an intensified form. This is even more true for refugees and irregularized migrants. The catastrophic effects of the pandemic are thus especially harsh at the border, in a form that is intensified by the border.

    Refugee camps – hosting millions of Palestinians, Sudanese, Rohingya, Syrians, and many more in a camp archipelago that barely touches Europe and North America – are the crucible of this crisis just as much as they condense the structural violence of the border regime more generally. Take the camps at the borders of the European Union in Greece, where over 40,000 people – mostly from Syria and Afghanistan – are confined under unimaginable hygienic conditions, without the ability to wash their hands, let alone practice social distancing or access any reliable medical help. This is neither a natural condition nor an accidental byproduct of an otherwise well-functioning border regime. It is the direct effect of political decisions taken by the EU and its member states (and in a similar way, the EU, together with the US, has played a crucial role in producing the conditions that these refugees are seeking to flee).

    Instead of evacuating the camps in which the first Covid-19 cases were reported, the Greek government – deserted by its fellow EU member states – has now placed them under lockdown. Germany, the largest and richest EU member, has made it clear that it will take in no more than 400 children, but even that will only happen once others do their “fair share” – a “fair share” that stands in a grotesque relation to the number of refugees currently hosted in countries such as Turkey (3.7m) and Pakistan (1.4m). Unfortunately, this declaration of complete moral bankruptcy does not come as a surprise, but continues an EU record that has been especially dismal since the “summer of migration” in 2015, when the mass political agency of refugees – and especially their march from the Budapest train station to the Austrian and then on to the German border – forced politicians to open the borders. This opening lasted only very briefly, and the subsequent strategy of closure has been aimed at preventing a renewed opening at all costs, thus paving the way for the current resurgence of disaster nationalism. (It is precisely for this reason that European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen has referred to Greece as the “shield” of Europe – suggesting the urgent need to repel an imminent threat.)

    The indifference toward the suffering of refugees at the EU’s borders, or rather the EU’s exercise of its “power to make live and let die,” fits well with the logic of disaster nationalism that the hollow rhetoric of solidarity barely manages to disguise: every state is on its own, the virus is “othered” as a foreign threat or “invasion,” and the closing of borders intensifies the “border spectacle” that is supposed to assure citizens that their government has everything under control.

    Of course, the illegitimacy of the border regime, especially in its catastrophic effects on refugees in camps in Greece and elsewhere, needs to be publicly exposed. Indeed, this illegitimacy is overdetermined and goes beyond the incontrovertible fact that in its current form it violates international law and creates a permanent humanitarian catastrophe. From a normative perspective, the injustice-generating and injustice-preserving, freedom-restricting, and undemocratic character of the existing border regime has also been rigorously demonstrated – both in philosophical argument and in daily political contestations by refugee and migrant movements themselves.

    Nevertheless, insisting on this illegitimacy is insufficient as it underestimates the complexity of the border as a social institution, as well as the powerful forces of naturalization that make borders seem like part of the natural make-up of our world, especially for those who are exempt from borders’ daily terror. The normative case against borders, at least in the form in which they currently exist, thus needs to be supplanted by a critical theory of the border. Because critical theory, still grappling with its legacy of methodological nationalism, at least in the Frankfurt School tradition, has had little to say on these issues in the past, we need to turn to critical migration studies, which build on the knowledge generated in practices of migration themselves. Three lessons in particular (distilled from the work of Etienne Balibar, Sandro Mezzadra, Nicholas de Genova and others) stand out:

    1) Borders do not simply have a derived or secondary status – as if they were just drawing the line between preexisting entities and categories of people – but are essentially productive, generative, and constitutive, e.g., of the differences between citizens and migrants, and between different categories of migrants (refugees, economic migrants, expats, etc.) and their corresponding forms of mobility and immobility.

    2) Borders are no longer exclusively or primarily “at the border,” at the “limits” of the state’s territory, but have proliferated in the interior as well as the exterior of the political community and been diffused into “borderscapes” in which particular categories of people, such as irregularized migrants, never really cross the border or manage to leave it behind.

    3) Borders do not simply enable the exclusion of non-citizens and migrants and the inclusion of citizens and guests. Instead their porosity and imperfection is part of their functionality and design, enabling a form of differential inclusion and selection that does not just block irregular migration but filters it, including in ways that are in keeping with the demands of contemporary labor markets (especially in areas deemed essential in times of crisis such as care and agriculture).

    One implication of these lessons is that a border is never just a border – a gate to be opened or closed at will, although such gates do of course exist and can remain closed with fatal consequences. This becomes especially apparent in times of a pandemic in which governments race to close their borders as if this would stop a virus that has already exposed this way of thinking about borders as naïve and fetishistic. The reality of the border regime, and the way in which it contributes to making the pandemic into a catastrophe for the most vulnerable on our planet, confront us with what in the end amounts to a simple choice: we can either affirm this regime and continue to naturalize it, thus sliding down the slippery slope toward a struggle of all against all, or we can contribute to the manifold struggles by refugees and migrants alike to denaturalize and politicize the border regime, to expose its violence, and to make it less catastrophic.

    https://ctjournal.org/2020/04/09/borders-in-times-of-pandemic-2

    #frontières #pandémie #coronavirus #covid-19 #nationalisme #disaster_nationalism #crise_sanitaire #border_regime #régime_frontalier #camps_de_réfugiés #fermeture_des_frontières #invasion #border_spectacle #spectacle_frontalier #justice #nationalisme_méthodologique

    ping @isskein @karine4 @mobileborders @rhoumour @_kg_

    ping @mobileborders

  • In the Shadows of Coronavirus
    https://ctjournal.org/2020/04/29/in-the-shadows-of-coronavirus

    The planetary pandemic caused by the swift spread of “coronavirus” resonates in obvious ways with prior narratives of outbreak in recent memory. From the avian flu to the swine fever, the diseases caused by viral mutations have all been accompanied by a particular way of narrating crises and catastrophes. Coronavirus is no exception. As the pandemic unfolds, commonplaces about catastrophes, especially plagues, come to the fore, almost as if scripted. It is thus important to conceptualize the ongoing crisis through earthly theoretical and political categories that adequately grasp the social and political stakes involved. This is important not only for a political comprehension of, or at least coming to terms with, what is currently unfolding, but to grasp the ways in which the current (...)

    #Covid-19

  • #Covid-19 and the Work Society
    https://ctjournal.org/2020/04/30/covid-19-and-the-work-society

    Earlier this month, the International Monetary Fund declared the economic fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic to be the greatest downturn since the Great Depression. The shockwaves have reverberated across all domains of life, especially in the labor market, where arguably every worker has experienced disruption of one kind or another. Millions throughout the world now find themselves unemployed or furloughed, others are adjusting to the demands of working from home, while still others continue to go to work but under conditions of heightened risk to their health. Obviously the pandemic affects more than just people’s working lives—social distancing has made in-person socializing and most leisure activities impossible. But in the employment-centered neoliberal society, work is not only (...)

  • #Covid-19: A Brake on the Desire for Fascism in Brazil
    https://ctjournal.org/2020/05/11/covid-19-and-the-waning-of-the-desire-for-fascism-in-brazil

    “I am here because I believe in you. You are here because you believe in Brazil. We won´t negotiate anything. What we want is action for Brazil …”

    These words were spoken by Jair Messias Bolsonaro, President of Brazil, in the middle of his call for the end of the social isolation measures recommended by the World Health Organization as a means of containing the harmful impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. For Brazilian experts, the moment is worrying as the country approaches the peak of the transmission curve, with some 615 deaths in 24 hours—and this even without the disease’s having reached the most socially vulnerable members of the population. The event at which Bolsonaro spoke these words took place on April 19 and gathered a small group demanding the closure of congress and the army’s (...)

  • Politics of Life vs. Politics of Death
    https://ctjournal.org/2020/05/19/politics-of-life-vs-politics-of-death

    Critics have recently begun to compare the #Covid-19 crisis either to 9/11 or to the 2008 financial meltdown. This is highly misleading, in my view. The Covid-19 crisis is impossible to fully control by political fiat or to overcome by injecting money into the system. The sovereign right over life and death has been usurped by a virus, which is neither dead nor alive. Political decrees won’t be enough to stop the virus from killing, although they can slow down its spread. Nor are bailouts sufficient to revive economies devastated by the very lockdowns mandated by political authorities, since production lines cannot be reactivated without risking contamination. Perhaps for the first time since the dismantlement of the welfare state (et encore, since that was but a palliative that curbed (...)