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COVID-19 and Cultural Studies: Articulating the Pandemic

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The impetus for this series was a desire to bring greater articulacy to our own nascent observations and analyses surrounding COVID-19, but even moreso, to hear from our colleagues in Cultural Studies. Within the span of a week, the rhythms of the university were disrupted. Suddenly, offices were vacated, classes migrated, students, staff, and faculty exiled to electronic windows where we tried to carry out our regular duties as best we could. COVID-19 has radically altered just about every imaginable facet of social, economic, political, and cultural life. Those whose lives and livelihoods were already precarious are now faced with layoffs and/or further economic marginalization, increased racialized and gendered violence, and social and physical isolation. This series reflects on ways in which the pandemic has brought to the surface with great clarity and renewed force many of the injustices that were already embedded in our culture, and that can no longer be ignored.   

The scholars, activists, and artists in this series were asked to consider the pandemic from two angles: how this time is being experienced as “unprecedented,” and how it is also in deep continuity with what has gone before. Most observe that inequalities have intensified and violences have accelerated. In many instances, we see concentrations of power and capital retrenching rather than disturbing old patterns of dominance. 

Some of the contributors to this series reflect on the ways in which the pandemic has affected our research and work as scholars/students, as well as our lives beyond (but not separate from) these roles. The “managing” of COVID-19 has become an increased burden, particularly depending on who we are, and where and how we are located. 

The pandemic has also made visible our relationalitythe manner in which we depend upon one another. Social distancing can be a form of social solidarity, of caring and being responsible for one another. But it can also exacerbate contexts wherein relationships were already strained, already violent. Broken systems—or, more accurately, systems that were designed not to care or be responsible for certain people in the first place—have been rendered visible in terrible relief during this pandemic. Might this be an opportunity to revision, reimagine, and indeed uproot these systems by re-orienting ourselves towards new forms of collective care and relating? As of the launch date of this series, movements like Black Lives Matter and Justice 4 Black Lives have already begun to lead the way.  

Cultural Studies aims to offer productive interventions that make a difference in everyday lives and in the institutional worlds of culture, education, politics and society. Its interdisciplinary nature—which, at its best, derives from a variety of voices hitherto silenced or occluded—offers a forum for interventions that challenge traditional forms of academic writing. Assembled here are pieces of creative writing and poetry, auto-ethnography, essay-commentary, and visual art. The open-endedness of these forms allows the authors to explore issues of the present moment, as they are still unfolding.

This series is also an effort to reflect specifically on what it looks like to do Cultural Studies in Winnipeg, Manitoba, on Treaty One territory. This is the city where we work and live. It is a city with a long history of colonial violence that targets and neglects Indigenous life in particular, but is also home to a growing resurgence. We speak from this city, and make connections between it and those not so far-off places where state violence and resistance are unfolding day-by-day: Minneapolis, Atlanta, New York, Standing Rock. It is our hope that the articulations offered here prompt new insights, interventions, and forms of knowledge production for life post-COVID. When we return to whatever the “new normal” might look like in the university, we hope to not simply return to “business as usual,” but to emerge from the pandemic with greater clarity, resourcefulness, and solidarity.

Angela Failler and Jane Barter, June 9, 2020

This series is supported by funding from the Canada Research Chairs Program with the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada and the University of Winnipeg. The banner image was designed by Lauren Bosc, adapted from an image by Adam Nieścioruk on Unsplash.

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Original Call for Submissions - PDF