DHI’s Online Conversation Series Analyzes the Global Impact of COVID-19

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Image by Joel Filipe on Unsplash

How will the coronavirus pandemic reshape the world? What forms of inequality will persist, and what new ones will emerge? And what new openings are being created for resistance and social change?

A special online Conversation series from the DHI explores how the humanities can help us collectively pursue these questions as we work to understand and respond to the global crisis of COVID-19. The two-part series provides space for critical dialogue about the pandemic’s impact and how to move forward.

“Even in these difficult times, the UC Davis Humanities Institute remains committed to bringing the humanities and arts to our various constituents — and to show how a humanistic/artistic perspective can contribute even now,” said DHI Director Jaimey Fisher.

The series’ first event, The Geopolitics of COVID-19, featured renowned writer and activist Mike Davis, whose 2005 book The Monster at Our Door: The Global Threat of Avian Flu explored the role of industry and government in creating the ecological conditions that allowed for the dangerous emergence of H5N1. Davis, who has written several articles on the current pandemic, spoke in conversation with writer, organizer, and UC Davis professor Joshua Clover.

The poorest people in the world will be those most devastated by COVID-19, Davis stressed. He pointed out that while most people in the United States have access to food and medical care and are thus more likely to survive the virus, a majority of the two billion people living in the world’s slums are immunocompromised by malnutrition and other preexisting conditions.

“Right now, as the pandemic courses through sub-saharan Africa and parts of India and the subcontinent, it’s very likely the disease will be reshaped and assume an even more deadly form,” Davis said. “We may be actually just standing on the threshold of the real massacre that will be associated with the pandemic.”

Davis also contends that the crisis of COVID-19 will result in a new geopolitical and geoeconomic configuration; a change that was already on its way before the virus arrived. “The pandemic was the detonator of this crisis,” Davis explained.

Though he offered some conjectures about what this new configuration might look like, Davis ultimately argued that it was impossible to predict, but that even a partial return to the status quo would be unstable. What might seem like a return to global economic stability would in fact be “subject to all the centrifugal forces that we see now, even if it postpones the crisis. It’s not a lasting world order. And on the sidelines, smiling and patting themselves on the back, are the gods of chaos. I think you have to see them as the solution.”

The April 17 event was streamed live on YouTube and the audience submitted questions using the online chat. DHI staff moderated the Q&A, and Associate Director Katharine Wallerstein posed selected audience questions. Many were interested in discussing emerging opportunities for anticapitalist resistance with Davis and Clover, who have each been leading theorists of class struggle.

Screenshot from YouTube of Mike Davis, Joshua Clover, and Kathy Wallerstein
Mike Davis (left) in conversation with Joshua Clover (center). DHI Associate Director Katharine Wallerstein (right) moderated the Q&A.

Responding to a question about the possibility of a revived Left internationalism, Davis called for mobilization to demand medical and debt relief for African countries as well as an end to the U.S. deportation of asylum seekers. Asked about the national rent strikes, Clover said he saw them as a good example of how historical exigency can lend strength to political struggle. “Solidarities that are called into being or consolidated by immediate events and experience are often going to be extremely powerful,” Clover maintained.

Fisher was impressed by the level of engagement among online viewers; more than 250 tuned in for the duration of the event, and over 600 registered. The number of views in the days following the event passed 1,000. “Given the number of concurrent online viewers and then views of the video on the channel afterward, it might have been the best turnout of any event we’ve held,” he said.

“We were thrilled to be able to open the series with Mike Davis, whose exemplary leadership in struggles and analyses of power and class have influenced so many in our constituency for decades. We were equally delighted that Joshua Clover agreed to interview him and make his own contributions,” Wallerstein added. “While we hope for the end of this current health crisis we look forward to bringing you more programming in this vein, and to harnessing the power of the many courageous thinkers, cultural actors, and social activists in our midst.”

The DHI’s special online Conversation series will continue this week with COVID-19 and the Disappearing International: Challenges and Opportunities for Human Rights. On Thursday, April 30, from 5:30-7:00pm, join Keith David Watenpaugh (Director of the UC Davis Human Rights Studies Program), Joanna Regulska (Vice Provost and Associate Chancellor of Global Affairs, Professor of Gender, Sexuality, and Women’s Studies), and Karima Bennoune (Professor of Law and UN Special Rapporteur, Cultural Rights) for a panel discussion and Q&A via YouTube Live