During the COVID-19 lockdown, as households were kept separate in a bid to contain the coronavirus, morally underpinned dynamics of fission and fusion occurred, privileging the ‘nuclear family’, which is taken here in two senses: the conventional social unit of a couple and their children, on the one hand, and the togetherness promoted by the nuclear industry in North West England, on the other. Whilst Sellafield’s Nuclear family fused with its host community in an outpouring of corporate kindness and volunteering, singles bereft of nuclear families were fissioned off from social life, which led to a corrective debate in the Netherlands. Drawing out analogies from a modest comparative perspective, I posit the nuclear family as a prism affording insights into the corporate, governmental and personal management of intimacy.
Moralities of Intimacy under COVID-19
Petra Tjitske Kalshoven
Redistributive land reform and distributive justice in the COVID-19 pandemic
Brazil has endured multiple political, economic, and environmental crises—and now the COVID-19 pandemic—which have drawn social inequalities into razor sharp relief. This contribution analyzes the resilience of rural families facing these crises in southern Bahia. These families have benefited from various redistributive policies over the years, including redistributive land reforms (RLRs), conditional cash transfers (CCTs), and recent emergency aid (EA) payments related to the pandemic. Each (re)distributive approach involves different notions of distributive justice informed by competing background theories of “the good,” which hold implications for concepts of resilience. Drawing on long-term research with RLR communities in Bahia, this article considers the gains achieved by different redistributive programs. Families who acquired land through RLR projects appear more resilient, especially in the face of crisis.
Brief Reflections on Intimacies and Precariousness
This article aims to reflect on the ways in which the COVID-19 pandemic changed how experiences of intimacy occur with a specific focus on the domestic relations of women living in favelas in the city of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. In contexts marked by precariousness and by the everyday difficulty of cohabitation in spaces that are characterised as small and with little infrastructure, the pandemic retraces the forms of co-existence, modifying the ways in which intimacies are built and experienced. The perspective adopted takes into account the ways in which the pandemic creates, recreates and intensifies relationships of vulnerability that not only include prevention of the virus, but changes to domestic space and women’ private lives.
Sensing Uganda in a Time of Immobility
Richard Vokes and Gertrude Atukunda
We have been conducting collaborative ethnographic research together for over 20 years. Over the past 12 months, this collaboration has included face-to-face encounters, both in Kampala, Uganda, and in Perth, Australia. However, since the advent of COVID-19-related ‘lockdowns’ in our respective countries, our engagements have been conducted exclusively over online platforms, including WhatsApp, Facebook and – increasingly – Zoom. In this article, we reflect upon our shared experience of conducting ethnography through this platform as a tool for understanding the effects of the pandemic in Uganda. We argue that, despite all kinds of material constraints (at both ends), Zoom has much to offer the ethnographer particularly because it can generate an intimate understanding of experience and time. However, against this advantage, some aspects of social life remain beyond the range of its channels, for which an assemblage of additional methods are required. We finish by reflecting upon what these methods have contributed to our long-term study of emergent cultures of mobility in Uganda – a study which is now being conducted in an ostensible context of immobility.
How an International Student Dorm in Copenhagen Became a Closed Circuit during COVID-19
This article examines how lockdown measures have affected international students living in an international student dorm in Copenhagen. During the COVID-19 lockdown in Denmark from March to June, the dorm, which was previously considered a domestic space only, emerged as a closed circuit that collapsed into a single space living, work and leisure activities. The article shows that due to the lack of physical, mental and temporal demarcations between spaces of work and leisure, the dorm as a closed circuit has altered social and intimate relations. Drawing on concepts of non-places, home, and hyper-places, it argues that the life of international students was particularly disrupted by the COVID-19 lockdown.
COVID-19 Disruption of Intimate Socialities among Street-Engaged Food Traders in Ho Chi Minh City
Ngoc-Bich Pham, Hong-Xoan Nguyen, and Catherine Earl
Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam's largest city, supports a vibrant street food culture. Most of the city's street-engaged food traders are poor and unskilled women, and there is scant research about how they build social networks and social capital that sustain their micro-businesses. This article focusses on the intimate socialities that street-engaged food traders develop with customers, shop owners and sister-traders in order to stabilise their incomes while their informal street-trading activities are policed and potentially shut down. Recent COVID-19 lockdown and social-distancing measures disrupted the crucial interpersonal relations of street trading and left the traders with no income. This article explores traders’ strategies for achieving economic security, and outlines transformations of intimate socialities into mediated and digital relations after the lockdown.
This article considers the way the outbreak of coronavirus and the subsequent lockdown have egregiously impeded the intimate life practices of Kotis, people who possess a distinct gender-variant identity in India. The Kotis, who subsist mostly on begging or sex work through cross-dressing, counter the hegemonic heteronormative ‘bodyscape’ that fetishizes bodily differences and reinforces normative intimate practices. Using narratives and documentary evidence on their lives, this article elaborates how Koti livelihoods and the intimate practices circumambient of such livelihoods are withering away because of the pandemic. Tragically today, they are branded as ‘corona transmitters’, and their intimate practices are stigmatised as ‘infectious’. A restraint on their physical movement and gathering in public spaces due to the pandemic has ramifications not only for their livelihood, but also for their intimate practices and identity assertions.
The Work of Home and the Work from Home
Initially with the massive outbreak of COVID-19, physical distancing in the form of stay-at-home campaigns made the headlines. The most stringent lockdown period in India was envisaged by the privileged class as a productive time at home. I show that the home as a space of leisure and intimacy is also a site of caste and gender privilege that upholds the social division of labour. By looking at both the work of home and the work from home, I problematise the notion of productivity from home and argue for a renewed understanding of what constitutes work and what constitutes home as an intimate space.
An Anthropological Account of Life and Liminality during COVID-19
The World Health Organization declared the COVID-19 pandemic on 11 March 2020, and the world has been different ever since. Recalling the work of Victor Turner and Arnold van Gennep, this article explores how their ideas about rituals and rites of passage can be used to make sense of the pandemic. In particular, it seeks to show how using the structure of rituals of separation and incorporation and liminality can unpack and highlight changing ideas about temporality, embodiment and relationships.
Resuming Domestic Work in Households after the Lockdown
In India, the ‘unlock’ period has allowed some domestic workers to return to work; this comes amidst government advisories of greater risk of contagion generally. Drawing on ethnographic work with women domestic workers in the city of Delhi, the article delineates how formalities of social distancing and mask-wearing have begun to inflect personalised labour relationships in ways that entrench existing hierarchies enabled by caste practices. This can be evidenced from a doubling of the idea of contagion – a culturally polluted person rendered even more pestilential because of contagion, but whose service/s are, nonetheless, needed to disinfect the space of the employer's home. With no data set available for assessing whether caste has been a variable in the spread of the coronavirus pandemic, anthropology will have to take up the responsibility of demonstrating that the latter is indeed a social phenomenon.