In this essay we critique the governance of the first phase of the COVID-19 pandemic via examining the measure of face coverings or masks. Drawing on the work of Michel Foucault we examine governance in the UK and US for expressions of different forms of power relations. Our approach is characterised by a wariness of authoritarian government, looking to the citizen and community to construct forms of what Foucault dubs counter-conduct. Monitoring both mainstream media and interactions on social media, and conducting a survey, we enquire into how citizens might act to enable governance of the pandemic in which democratic participation in decision-making is ensured. We draw particular attention to the contrasting strategies of neoliberal governmentality and biopolitics-from-below which have been emergent features of COVID-19 governance. Ultimately, we argue for more flexible and fluid power relations in pandemic governance. Most especially, we recognise the need to involve and empower citizens and local communities. We argue too that citizens need to embrace and even thrive upon uncertainty as a foundation on which to construct counter-conduct and thence biopolitics-from-below. This piece builds upon, and responds to, previous publications in the Antipode Interventions series pertaining to questions of governance (Hannah et al. 2020a) and scientific expertise during the COVID-19 pandemic (Tulumello 2021).
|Published - 11 May 2021
- Biopolitics Face Masks