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Pandemic Drones

Promises and Perils

Julia M. Hildebrand and Stephanie Sodero


When the novel coronavirus moved around the planet in early 2020, reconfiguring, slowing down, or halting everyday mobilities, another transport mode was mobilized: the pandemic drone. We highlight the increasing prominence of this aerial device by surveying international media coverage of pandemic drone use in the spring of 2020. To address a range of pandemic drone affordances and applications, we organize manifold cases under two broad categories: sensing and moving with the pandemic drone. Here we ask: what roles do, and could, drones play during the pandemic? Following the empirical examples and related mobilities research, we theorize the drone versus virus and the drone as virus. As such, the work identifies avenues for mobilities research into pandemic drones as a growing mobility domain. Moreover, in thinking through the pandemic drone, we demonstrate creative extensions of mobilities thinking that bridge biological and technological, as well as media and mobility frameworks when multiple public health and safety crises unfolded and intersected.

Open access

The Pandemic of Productivity

The Work of Home and the Work from Home

Suchismita Chattopadhyay


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.

Open access

Pandemic Passages

An Anthropological Account of Life and Liminality during COVID-19

Genevieve Bell


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.

Open access

Perverse Economies of Intimate and Personal Labour

Resuming Domestic Work in Households after the Lockdown

Pooja Satyogi


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.

Open access

Practising Intimate Labour

Birth Doulas Respond during COVID-19

Angela N. Castañeda and Julie Johnson Searcy


Birth doulas provide non-medical intimate support to pregnant people and their families. This support starts at the very foundation of life – breath. Doulas remind, encourage and accompany people through labour by breathing with them. However, the global COVID-19 pandemic has interrupted doulas’ intimate work, and they are forced to navigate new restrictions surrounding birth practices. Based on data collected from a qualitative survey of over five-hundred doulas as well as subsequent follow-up interviews with select doulas, we find intimacy at births disrupted and reshaped. We suggest that an analysis of doulas provides a unique way to think through the complexities surrounding reproduction precisely due to doulas’ ability to navigate intimate labour between and across boundaries.

Open access

Reinforcing Authentic Intimacy?

Relationships between an Escort Boy and His Male Clients in the Spectre of COVID-19 in France

Kostia Lennes


Drawing on the story of Valentin, one of the key participants of my current research on escort boys and their male clients in Paris, this article offers some reflections on the very meaning of intimacy as it is lived and experienced by this escort boy and his clients in the spectre of COVID-19. As a strict lockdown has been decreed by the French government for two months between March and May 2020, the situation has been somehow indicative of Valentin's relationship with his clients. The lockdown showed how authentic intimacy, cleared of expected escort performances, arose with even more intensity between Valentin and one of his clients. This article explores the changing nature of their relationship in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Open access

Spatio-Temporal Translations

Practices of Intimacy under Absence

Erica Baffelli and Frederik Schröer


During the COVID-19 pandemic, access to space has been strictly regulated and restricted. Many of us feel acutely disconnected from our relationships, while at the same time new forms of (virtual) intimacies have become ubiquitous. In the pandemic present, nearly all interpersonal relations are now characterised by a double absence that is concrete and material, and also emotional and felt. This article offers a theoretical reflection on how conditions of absence create new practices of intimacy and new strategies of coping. It does so by discussing how pre-pandemic emotional repertoires are translated into new forms of intimacy that can synchronise or throw out of sync. It highlights the centrality of spatial and temporal relations under absence in uncovering new mediated practices.

Open access

The triple-sidedness of “I can't breathe”

The COVID-19 pandemic, enslavement, and agro-industrial capitalism

Don Nonini

On Juneteenth, Friday, June 19, 2020, unionized workers of the Durham Workers Assembly of Durham, North Carolina, held a rally in front of Durham Police Headquarters to “defund the police” in support of the national Black Lives Matter movement protesting in massive numbers in the streets of US cities and being met with overwhelming police repression. Black Lives Matter marches in the streets of cities and towns of the United States continued, as the world looked on.

Open access

Ways of ‘Being With’

Caring for Dying Patients at the Height of the COVID-19 Pandemic

Annelieke Driessen, Erica Borgstrom, and Simon Cohn


Palliative care professionals often speak of the importance of forming meaningful relationships with patients and their families. Trust and rapport, usually established over extended periods of time through face-to-face interactions, and a ‘gentle honesty’ regarding end-of-life and death are key aspects of developing a sense of intimacy with people who are approaching the end of their lives. A fundamental feature of this intimacy is conveying a sense of ‘being with’ a patient. However, these ways of working were greatly challenged by the impact of COVID-19. This article explores how intimacy both was and was not established at the height of the pandemic, and it describes the extent to which shared concerns functioned as a new means to create a sense of a common experience.

Open access

Workplace Intimacy

Andrew Dawson and Simone Dennis


Amidst massive economic damage tension between the needs to save lives and save jobs has become the basis of a key political fault-line and a matter of daily on-the-ground management during the COVID-19 pandemic. In this article we consider four especially salient changes to work-life wrought by the pandemic: (1) new workplace praxes pertaining to matters of touch; (2) erosion and degrading of the quality of erstwhile intimate relations in certain workplaces; (3) changes to senses of belonging and homeliness in workplaces; (4) and, reflecting on the particular type of work that we do, how the pandemic (and pandemic lockdown especially) is impacting our pedagogical and research practices. Throughout we reveal how the intimacies experienced within workplaces are being transformed – not always eroded or degraded, but also sometimes adapted, sustained in new ways (especially via new communications technologies), and even enhanced.