Connection, Contagion, and COVID-19

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Abstract

Anthropologists have long known how perceptions of contagion play out along the lines of xenophobia and racism. Months after the beginning of the global Cover-19 pandemic, predictions by anthropologists of xenophobic ideologies and actions have come to pass. In the United States people understand the global pandemic not as biology, but as the manifestation of political affiliation, difference, connection, and disconnection. COVID-19 is, according to public perception, dangerous because it maliciously mutates to attack. It is “a guy we don’t know.” Relationships between the mysteriousness of the virus and heightened visibility of longstanding inequality in the United States form new contexts for existing social tensions. These dynamics provide a backdrop against which the ongoing commitment to uprisings connected to the Black Lives Matter movement unfold. Here I draw on analysis of 50 semi-structured interviews we conducted from March to August of 2020 demonstrating how understandings of the biology of a virus are woven into perceptions of politics, inequality, and the fractures of a divided nation. To understand social and political responses to the global pandemic it is essential that we continue to investigate xenophobia, inequality, and racism alongside the biological impact of SARS-CoV-2.

Keywords

  • United States
  • conspiracy
  • contagion
  • racism

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health(social science)
  • Anthropology

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