With Raquel Rolnik and Antonio Maturo, organised by RN16 Sociology of Health and Illness and RN37 Urban Sociology.
The Covid-19 pandemic is unprcedented in the last century and has been acutely felt in many cities all over the world. Covid-19 is showing us in a dramatic way our vulnerability as human beings and the importance of our urban contexts, in particular its schisms for mental and physical health, challenging our sense of responsibility towards matters that transcend the private sphere, towards our neighbours and other people and the affairs and values of city, community and society.
Whenever a trend and explanation for the spread of the infection emerges, Covid-19 challenges it: shifting our knowledge of the most affected ages, genders, ethnic groups, countries and territories. However, it seems clear that the virus is not “democratic” at all: the inequalities of our cities are exacerbated by the pandemic, and many people disadvantaged by lack of resources and skills are unable to defend themselves.
The pandemic has brought an increase in social and political awareness of the need for change in European cities where people’s care and their health can be – but presently often are not – at the centre of its design. Thinking about health and care means placing the sustainability of life, urban mobility, spatial segregation, public space and people’s daily experiences at the centre of political decisions.
While the pandemic has reinforced urban and health inequalities, it also provides a window of opportunity for us as sociologists to rethink issues concerning this matter. RN16 and RN37 would like to invite colleagues to discuss these topics, with a view to building alternative futures.
Raquel Rolnik | University of São Paulo, Brazil
Cities and Covid-19: Utopias and Dystopias
The current pandemic has intensified and made the preexisting crisis clear cut and explicit: the biopolitics grounded on growingly extractivist logics and in the destruction and promotion of death have taken hold of all existing relationships between bodies and territories. With it, also preceding forms of control and surveillance, such as the confinement imposed in many cities and countries and other shapes of the restructuring of the surplus extraction process through cyber capitalism, which had also been redesigning our cities, have also been intensified: private, controlled and securitized systems of territorial governance; as well as a mainly cybernetic economy based on automation and bigdata, and on the collection and extraction of people’s personal data and on the tracking of all their movements. This scenario represents the dystopia that is presented to us as our future. However, in an opposite vein, the pandemic has also catalyzed the rise of a myriad of forms of self-organization and mobilization geared towards securing people’s survival in contexts where a scarcity of resources emerges. These forms take a variety of means – legal, illegal, supra-legal – and operate in and through community and collective takeover, solidarity networks, and spaces of invention and improvisation. The post-pandemic situation is thus one of struggle between the previous dystopia and this utopia of the political imagination to invent another model for our cities, one not based on a centralized model attached to the extractivist, exploitative and consumer logic, but rather on an alternative model envisioning change grounded on the primacy of defending life.
Raquel Rolnik is a professor of Urban Planning at the University of São Paulo. She was planning director at the São Paulo Municipal Planning Secretariat (1989-92) and National Secretary of Urban Programmes of the Brazilian Ministry of Cities (2003–2007). From 2008 to 2014, she held the mandate of UN Special Rapporteur on adequate housing. She was an urbanism columnist for Rádio CBN-SP, Band News FM and Rádio Nacional, and for the newspaper Folha de S. Paulo, and she currently keeps a column on Radio USP, UOL and on her personal webpage. She has recently authored Urban Warfare: Housing under the Empire of Finance (Verso, 2019).
Antonio Maturo | Università di Bologna, Italy
From Sociographical Disruption to Medicalized Futures: Integrating Covid-19 into Everyday Life in the City
“Biographical disruption” is a key concept in medical sociology. This expression refers to the rupture in the fabric of everyday life and the upheaval in cognitive categories after the diagnosis of a chronic disease. It is not reductive to state that what we have experienced due to Covid-19 has been, and still is, a biographical disruption at a large scale: a “sociographical disruption”. During the major lockdown in the early months of the pandemic, our homes were a refuge but also a prison, a place of rest but also of work. Outside the home, a surreal silence reigned, broken only by ambulance sirens. We thus had to reinvent a domestic life marked by hybridization, ambiguity, and the uncanny (Unheimlichkeit). We also experienced a peculiar form of medicalization of everyday life characterized by new objects; new hygienic practices; and new forms of interaction in the city.
Will all these new normalities fade away thanks to the vaccine? Will we then go back to our old, pre-Covid normalcy? Probably not. The virus has proven our vulnerability. The events of 9/11 gave rise to huge changes in the security systems of airports and other crowded places; Covid-19 will give rise, on a much larger scale, to changes in every part of our lives. Life in the cities will be characterized by molecular surveillance (Endopticon) and several risk-reduction practices. Some of these practices will be presented and discussed.
Antonio Maturo is a medical sociologist and Professor at Bologna University. His latest books are Digital Health and the Gamification of Life, Emerald, 2018 (with Veronica Moretti) and Good Pharma, Palgrave, 2015 (with Donald Light) and among his publications on Covid: Unhome Sweet Home: The Construction of New Normalities in Italy during COVID-19, in Lupton D., Willis K. (eds) The Coronavirus Crisis: Social Perspectives, Routledge (with Veronica Moretti). He has edited two volumes of the journal Salute e Società: The Medicalisation of Life, 2009 (with Peter Conrad) and Medicine of Emotions and Cognitions, 2012 (with Kristin Barker). At Bologna University, Antonio is the Chair of the PhD Programme in Sociology and responsible for the Unit for the Horizon2020 “Oncorelief” Project. Moreover, he has taught Medical Sociology for five years at Brown University, USA. Antonio is proud to have been one of first Erasmus students, at the Katholieke University of Leuven, in the distant 1989/1990.