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Open access

Songs of the Pandemic

Michael Alexander Ulfstjerne


This article explores virtual common singing in the time of partial lockdown in Denmark through an auto-ethnographic account. The phenomenon of singing together on Danish public service television gained immense popularity as a response to the pandemic as one-fifth of the population tuned in, in many cases broadcasting themselves while signing. Looking at common singing as an emergent ‘infrastructure for troubling times’, this article takes up questions of digitally mediated intimacy during the COVID-19 lockdown, exploring who sings, what is sung, and the affective responses (tears, feelings of intimacy, ambivalence) to the singing. More than merely reviving vernacular singing traditions, the article argues, this new-found sonic comradery forms not only an affective infrastructure that moves people to tears but also somatic building blocks for national imageries.

Open access

Take My Breath Away

Transformations in the Practices of Relatedness and Intimacy through Australia's 2019–2020 Convergent Crises

Deane Fergie, Rod Lucas, and Morgan Harrington


This article eschews the singularity of much disaster, crisis and catastrophe research to focus on the complex dynamics of convergent crises. It examines the prolonged crises of a summer of bushfire and COVID-19 which converged in Eurobodalla Shire on the south coast of New South Wales (NSW), Australia, in 2019–2020. We focus on air and breathing on the one hand and kinship and the social organisation of survival and recovery on the other. During Australia's summer of bushfires, thick smoke rendered air, airways and breathing a challenge, leaving people open to reflection as well as to struggle. Bushfire smoke created ‘aware breathers’. It was aware breathers who were then to experience the invisible and separating threat of COVID-19. These convergent crises impacted the ‘mutuality of being’ of kinship (after Marshall Sahlins) and the social organisation of survival. Whereas the bushfires in Eurobodalla drew on grandparent-families in survival, the social distancing and lockdown of COVID-19 has cleaved these multi-household families asunder, at least for now. COVID-19 has also made plain how the mingling of breath is a new index of intimacy.

Open access

Tourism and COVID-19

Intimacy Transformed or Intimacy Interrupted?

Hazel Andrews


This article is a rumination on the ramifications of COVID-19 on practices of intimacy. In first exploring what intimacy is, the article notes that what it means and how it is practised varies depending on the socio-cultural context and the protagonists involved. Taking the tourist as a central figure in a search for intimacy, the article argues that this is predominantly seen in relation to sexual encounters. These occur in both tourists’ encounters with otherness as well as in tourism settings where there is little interest in other cultures. Magaluf, Mallorca, is one such example. In the light of lockdown and social distancing due to the global pandemic, the article asks to what extent touristic practices of intimacy will be transformed.

Open access

Unexpected Intimacies

An Exploration of the Physician–Patient Relationship during the COVID-19 Pandemic

Kelly Colas


Anthropologists examining the relationship between physician and patient in Western biomedicine have observed an inherent power discrepancy between the physician, assumed to hold scientific knowledge, and the patient, the recipient of this knowledge. COVID-19 presents a unique challenge to that dynamic, as physicians, scientists and medical experts possess limited understanding of the pathophysiology, interventions and treatment of the disease. Drawing on my experience as a resident physician on the frontlines of the COVID-19 pandemic, I contend that the absence of knowledge surrounding COVID-19 fosters a new form of intimacy between physician and patient through greater emphasis on subjective patient experience, increased transparency between physician and patient, and an expanding physician role beyond management of the physical disease state.

Open access

Visceral non-presence

Ethnography in the age of COVID

Jessica Brinkworth, Korinta Maldonado, Ellen Moodie, and Gilberto Rosas

The local slaughterhouse's coronavirus cluster was the first large outbreak we heard about in Champaign County. The sprawling pork processing plant sits in the midst of cornfields some 17 miles north of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Until early May, workers there processed 35 million pounds of pork a month. The company reported its first case on 25 April. Health inspectors arrived two days later to find the plant 90 percent out of compliance in its infection control practices. By 15 May, after testing 200 of the 627 workers for COVID-19, 83 got positive results. Management admitted it was ‘complex’ to track employees being tested and to follow up with those who had to be quarantined. That's when they contacted the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. They then announced confidently to the local press: We've got it under control. We have the scientists now.