Editor’s Choice May 2021: COVID-19 and the Politics of Fear

Matthew Johnson, Senior Lecturer in Politics, Lancaster University (m.johnson@lancaster.ac.uk), Matthew Flinders, Professor of Politics, University of Sheffield (m.flinders@sheffield.ac.uk) and Dan Degerman, Leverhulme Early Career Fellow, University of Bristol (dan.degerman@bristol.ac.uk)

This Editor’s Choice features contributions examining the (mis-)management of the pandemic. A year ago, we (Flinders, Degerman and Johnson) came together out of shared concern for the place of emotions in politics and shared belief that many orthodoxies on fear as an instrument of public administration were just wrong. As the pandemic worked its way through communities and countries across the globe, it became increasingly clear that long-standing rejections of fear as a negative or pre-political emotion failed to grasp not just its adaptive evolutionary value, but the vital role it can play in enabling societies to deal with crises. We set out the ways in which key frames of analysis had been rendered inadequate by the pandemic. Our conclusion was that, as a consequence, there was space for new scholarship on the politics of fear. This issue is the most substantive iteration of that work.

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Speculative Praxis & The No Normal

Photo by Laura Forlano, January 2021; Pictured: Artwork by Jessica Hargreaves, “Nunc tempus est” with reflection of artwork by Roya Farassat, 12 paintings from “Women Gilded” Series, 601Artspace, New York

Laura Forlano is Associate Professor of Design at the Institute of Design (ID) and Affiliated Faculty in the College of Architecture at Illinois Institute of Technology, where she is Director of the Critical Futures Lab (lforlano@id.iit.edu)

This blog post relates to the Global Discourse article Laura Forlano: Foreword

We cannot rationalize our way out of a crisis – or, to be more exact, the multiple crises that we face. We cannot audit our way towards a better future. We cannot merely criticize the failures of the past or those of the moment. We must have an artist’s vision, we must cultivate an activist’s ability to reimagine and we must create a collective dream that allows us to enact and experience alternatives to the current conditions. In short, we must embrace a speculative praxis.

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Speculative listening

Image: Screenshot of ‘Arctic*

Kaya Barry is a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the Griffith Centre for Social Cultural Research (k.barry@griffith.edu.au), Michelle Duffy is Associate Professor in the School of Environmental and Life Sciences, University of Newcastle (michelle.duffy@newcastle.edu.au), Michele Lobo is Lecturer in Human Geography, Deakin University (michele.lobo@deakin.edu.au)

This blog post relates to the Global Discourse article Kaya Barry, Michelle Duffy & Michele Lobo: Speculative listening: Melting sea ice, and new methods of listening with the planet          

Saltwater incursions, mangrove loss, species decline, ocean acidification and declining sea ice are expressions of global environmental change that are incredibly hard for the average person to fathom. Such slow emergencies are closely monitored by a complexity of scientific measures, yet the general public can often find this hard to digest and understand. Even as authoritative reports and global agreements – such as the 2019 IPBES Global Assessment or the Paris Agreement – emphasise the need for shared responsibility for planetary futures, these ‘big’ questions of how to act can lead to paralysis and paradoxically strengthen narratives of climate denialism and scepticism. When seeking to understand things that exceed our human grasp in the diverse planetary worlds we inhabit, the philosopher Bruno Latour urges us to learn ‘how to get our bearings, how to orient ourselves’. Speculative listening with the planet opens up possibilities for thinking and acting otherwise.

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Speculating with glitches: Keeping the future moving

"File:Kaposváron betiltották a Kétfarkú Kutya Párt járdafestéseit.jpeg" by Földes András, Index.hu is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0
“File:Kaposváron betiltották a Kétfarkú Kutya Párt járdafestéseit.jpeg” by Földes András, Index.hu is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0

Shawn Bodden PhD Researcher at Edinburgh University (shawn.bodden@fulbrightmail.org) and Jen Ross is Senior Lecturer in Digital Education and Centre co-director (Digital Cultures) at Edinburgh University (jen.ross@ed.ac.uk)

This blog post relates to the Global Discourse article Shawn Bodden & Jen Ross: Speculating with glitches: keeping the future

It’s been a year of glitches, large and small. The glitch has become inescapable in the wake of the worldwide disruptions, failures and uncertainties caused by the Covid-19 pandemic and the faltering, inadequate responses of too many world leaders to its challenge in their pre-emptive drive to return to a ‘new normal’. But what is a glitch, and should we understand it as more than an error (technical or otherwise)?

Glitches are a kind of encounter, where expectations, preferences and plans are disrupted, but which thereby provoke new, previously unthought possible futures. By responding to and using glitches, we engage in future-making practices that negotiate what feels possible here-and-now. Irksome glitchy moments can lead us—grudgingly at times—to improvise creative alternatives to our original plans. Rather than seeing the resolution of a glitch as a return to a pre-existing, smooth-functioning way of doing things, speculative decision-making and experimentation involves achieving something following the uncertain situation of a glitch. Repair thus becomes a situated and practical act of reflection on how to work with a glitch: a ‘new’ normal accompanied by lessons-learned, scars, corrosion, raised insurance rates and other unexpected changes. The glitch becomes a space for practical and critical speculative thought about here-and-now possible worlds.

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We Need to Talk about Liberty

David Tyfield is Professor of Sustainable Transitions and Political Economy at Lancaster University (d.tyfield@lancaster.ac.uk)

This blog post relates to the Global Discourse article David Tyfield: Interview: Governing Complexity and Reconceptualising Liberty

Living in a world beset by so many new and uncontrollable challenges, there is small wonder that there has been a resurgence of interest in questions of justice.  Justice clearly matters profoundly, but there is another social virtue that is arguably just as important, and as both the necessary condition for the ‘good life’ and as an end-in-itself, namely liberty. 

Yet today ‘liberty’ is not only rather neglected but often actively repudiated. The reason for this allergic aversion to liberty is obvious. For the term occupies a central position in the political project many of those concerned about justice today aim precisely to dismantle. The US-centric project of neoliberalism underpins the whole gamut of overflowing complex system problems that now threaten to overwhelm us, including both ecological destruction and socioeconomic inequality. 

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