PART 3: My COVID Reading List from March/April 2020

The Necropolitics of Care

My main interest in the aforementioned work of Scoones is in exploring how ‘uncertainty’ is dealt with through modelling. An epic industry that stretches far beyond academia into insurance giants and risk management in all sectors of life. A recent book by Frederic Keck explores the question of uncertainty in disease management through the concept of ‘preparedness’. He compares three different countries and how they combine different forms of hunting and pastoral power to ‘prepare’ and engage with disease. Here is a summary table from the conclusion of his book.

Hunting Techniques Sentinels Simulation Storage
Pastoral Techniques Sacrifice Scenarios Stockpiling
Ethnographic Sites Hong Kong Singapore Taiwan
Philosophical Problem truth reality equity
Anthropological Domain myth ritual exchange

Crudely speaking the takeaway point here is how different places combine power in different ways results in different infrastructures of preparedness and thus how interventions and disease play out. To understand the two powers Keck speaks of they are again crudely speaking pastoral power; the paternalistic power of the shepherd to demonstrate the protection of the population as sheep from outside wolves. Hunting power has become entangled with this in the form of the shepherd justifying taking on qualities of the wolf in order to watch for and root out black sheep (or wolves in sheep’s clothing) who are a danger to the flock. For a proper understanding of this please see Manhunts and A Theory of the Drone by Gregorie Chamayou.

For those interested in COVID in the UK, I would draw attention to Scoones reminder of how Foot and Mouth Disease was badly mismanaged using computer modelling. In fact that the very same cadre of scientists investigated for the disastrous management of Foot and Mouth disease in 2001 were hired by the current government to help to shape their miserable plan. Which brings me more explicitly to what all this has to do with Achille Mbembe’s necropolitics; the politics of death.

Necropower is the technologies of control through which life is strategically subjugated to the power of death. I am currently working on a paper, building on the aforementioned one on crows, and drawing on workshops I was invited to held by Ludek Broz and his observations about power over what nonhuman animals humans choose to die. The relevance here is that at one level preparedness is wrapped up in power as a form of demonstrating the legitimacy of a given government or persons to saving lives and removing harm.

But at a more morose level, such as in the UK case, this is instead about what I call the difference between the packaging, contents, entrails, and ecosystem from whence the contents emerged. Necropolitics has become less about saving lives and dealing indexically, in a Kohnian sense, with the contents of a package, let alone the ecosystem from whence it emerges (but will come to that later).

Instead, the packaging and entrails have become the indicators of the contents, to the degree that the contents could actually be hot air – all that matters is:

(i) packaging: flag-waving, PR, manipulation of statistics and maps, and arguably most flimsy mask-wearing – which performatively indicate certainty but are totally unmoored from the contents. A whole fetishistic Debordian spectacle mediated via Zuboff’s surveillance capitalism;

(ii) entrails: this is the phenomenon of demonstrating certainty of a clean and controlled place or population, not through attention to engagements, but through the sheer quantity of ‘wasted bodies’ of harmful others that can be cleaned.

This waste is the performative demonstration of clean contents. This is not the test-trace and ending of the curve (let alone addressing the conditions that facilitate pandemic emergence), but the flattening of it so society can effectively continue.