Necroethics in a Time of COVID-19 and Black Lives Matter

Scott Schaffer, The University of Western Ontario

Starting with the simultaneous appearances in 2020 of the COVID-19 pandemic, the uprisings in response to extrajudicial executions of Black Americans, and the deployment of US federal troops in Portland, Oregon, this chapter explores the ways in which late-capitalist social ethics are rooted in a notion of expendability. I argue here that Achille Mbembe’s notion of necropolitics can give us a way into understanding the ways in which this “triage ethos” is baked into the DNA of 21st-century societies. For Mbembe, necropolitics is the deployment of social or political power to govern the exposure of other human beings to the realm of death, whether social, civil, or actual. In this essay, I will extend this notion to argue that the necro- is actually embedded in the very material ethical relations between people. What has come to the fore in the time of COVID is the necroethical constitution of modern social orders in both their material and ideational aspects.

Research Status (as of October 27, 2020): Forthcoming in J. Michael Ryan (ed.), COVID-19: Global pandemic, societal responses, ideological solutions. 2020, Routledge.

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Contact: Scott Schaffer

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