Coronavirus: an affective understanding of global panic

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What started the 31st of December 2019 in the city of Wuhan, China, as a Pneumonia of  unknown cause has turned to the newest highly contagious internationally spead 2019-nCoV (Coronavirus) in the first days of 2020. The Coronavirus crisis and consequent global panic follows other global public health crises related to outbreaks of diseases such as SARS in 2003, Zika in 2015, Ebola in 2014-2016  or MERS in 2012( both provoking deaths in parts of Asia and Africa still today).

Understanding global panic is hard in many ways.  Some  commentators have highlighted the side of the politics of fear, a mainstream  comprehension of fear understood as a tool of governance positing in this case China as a geography of fear inspired by an event which has a global reach.  From this reading, fearmongering  is used by big media outlets and politicians, speading fear and making people vulnerable to certain restrictive measures, against the WHO’s Eemergency Commitee recommendations, like we are seeing: border closure, travel bans and so on. In this regard conceptualising global panic just in these terms is purely self-explanatory: it all ends in irrationality, precaution measures and controlling masses.

But I propose another understanding, from the conceptualisation that has been made from  affective theory. Very briefly, affective theory proposes  ‘to examine the ways in which feelings can (re)produce dominant social and geo-political hierarchies and exclusions’

From affective theory, and particularly within the frame of one of its proponents, Sara Ahmed, we can read global panic and understand how affect is embedded in China, coronavirus (re)marking it a geography of fear, and the Chinese, the bodies to fear (or hate), once again. For Ahmed, affect and emotions (fear,hate, love) are cumulative, just like any form of capital, and thus has its historical development. From European colonization of Chinese land to the yellow peril , to the fear of China and its rise to great power status, to the current Coronavirus situation, there is a continuum in what Ahmed refers to as affective economy.

There is no doubt that particular contexts and situations provoke a certain reading of those bodies affected, in particular when an outbreak of a disease is where those geographies and those bodies are located and already marked; marked different from European, Chinese and China circulates as an “other”- like this very case: a non-clean other, an infected other.  Emotions of fear transform into hate, which circulates  then easily, getting attached to anybody of  perceived similar characteristics despite all other circumstances. This attachment will provoke then new affect, accumulating to the one that is there, and moving forwards to (re)produce perceptions of Asian peoples and Asian geogrpahies.

To be sure, Coronavirus creates the best opportunity for the reintensification of discourses that are already enrooted in large parts of societies. In this case the campaign  launched by Asian peoples #imnotavirus #jenesuispasunvirus #yonosoyunvirus is relevant to understand rise of racism from affective theory. At the same time the travel bans (particularly in the US), disruptions in Asian markets and in key economic areas or even Taiwan trying to take political advantage of the situation respond to similar affective logics, nontheless expressed differently depending on the politics, history, and contexts that shape particular perceptions of China and its peoples.

Finally, this reading does not oppose others, but can help in explaining beyond “precaution” or “risk” how affect circulates, why are some measures imposed and wonder if there would have been such cases of racism against peoples from Asia in Europe had it been an European outbreak.







25th December beyond Christmas: wars, colonization and the end of an era

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Today, the 25th of December, is Christmas day, and it is celebrated around the world.  The Christian tradition commemorates the birth of Jesus of Nazareth, although, before that, the 25th was already marked as a festivity to celebrate Winter solstice in pre-Christian cultures. But beyond celebrating Christmas, the 25th of December has been a date of relevance throughout history.

As such, here are some events that happened on the 25th December around the world and in different periods of time that hold some relevance and impact for International Relations.

In Europe, in 1356, in Nuremberg and Metz, the Emperor Carlos IV of Luxembourg promulgated the Golden Bull of 1356, the decree that would fix for more than four hundred years constitutional aspects of the Holy Roman Empire, such as the mechanism for the election of the Kings. The Holy Roman Empire constituted the primary ruling entity in Europe, lasting almost 1,000 years.

In South America, in 1492 the Spanish ship Santa María (one of the three first ships sent by the Spanish Royals and with Cristobal Columbus on it) ran aground in front of the island named “the Spanish”, today territory of Haiti and the Dominican Republic. With the remains of the ship, the Spanish would build the  From the first establishment on American soil, named “Fort Christmas” (Fuerte Navidad), initiating the colonization period that would last more than 300 years.

In 1553 in Chile, the indigenous people (los Mapuches), within the Auraco war defeated the Spanish colonizers in the Battle of Tucapel, the first battle won by the indigenous people that would demystify the invincibility of the Spanish troops and boosted resistance and uprisings against colonization.

In Asia, the 25th December 1978, in the context of the Cambodian-Vietnamese War, the Vietnamese army launched the definitive offensive, deploying more than 150,000 soldiers, that would end with the loss of more than half of the Kampuchean Revolutionary Army, making the Khmer Rouge retreat, paving the way for their final defeat of the Kampuchean troops and the occupation by the Vietnamese army.

And of course, in the last years of the 20th century, one of the events that marked the World until today, the 25th of December 1991 the resignation of Mikhail Gorbachev following the Belavezha Accords and transferring power to Boris Yelstein made the USSR finally dissolve, putting an effective end to the Cold War, as the Soviet flag was lowered from the Kremlin. 

Although these are just a few of the events that have happened on the 25th of December, the date has had a meaning beyond Christmas throughout history. Notwithstanding and for those who are celebrating in 2019 the tradition, have a merry Christmas and enjoy the holiday.

Who knows what the next 25th December beyond Christmas will be. It may be already happening today.