( pn58 )

Between Public Amnesia and Neglect: Marginalized Communities’ Experiences of the Pandemic


    Mallika Shakya


    South Asian University

    Online - Presence


    South Africa

    University of Cape Town

    Online - Presence

IUAES Affiliation: Global Transformations and Marxian Anthropology


Memory, Marxism, labour, coronavirus, subaltern


It is worth revisiting how the emergence of “memory” as a trope in the anthropology and the social sciences has coincided with the intellectual turn known as “the crisis of Marxism.” Enzo Traverso (2017), however, rightly emphasizes how the dialectical connection between memory and Marxism cannot be forgotten. His work revisits Eric Hobsbawm’s documentation of divergence in terms of how radical politics mobilizes memory from the conservative attempts of dominant authorities to establish narratives of past glory. Marxists’ use of memory has been about their concerns for the future of the proletariat, and to recall the promises and hope which are betrayed by the rapidly capitalising nation-state bureaucracies. Walter Benjamin wrote, “[The French Revolution] evoked ancient Rome the way fashion evokes costumes of the past. Fashion has a flair for the topical; …it is a tiger’s leap into the past. This jump, however, takes place in an arena where the ruling class gives the commands.” By invoking dialectic tension, this panels revisits the recent coronavirus crisis, aiming to document, and then pedagogize the narratives of the workers and other marginalized communities in resistance to the imperatives imposed by those in power. Our point of departure is that the apocalyptic energy of the Covid19 lockdown, mass retrenchment and social distancing has now been largely swept aside from public memorialising. Post-pandemic fieldwork suggests how references to Covid19 are actively discouraged from shop-floor and office conversations. Yet the visceral confrontations with perhaps the darkest side of our own selves which once normalized draconian measures such as the lockdown and social distancing continue to configure our lives in a myriad of manners. It was not too distant in the past that the successive waves of Covid19 shut down cities as e-screens became the new sites of socialising while heightened xenophobia and hostilities around class, caste, nationality and race acquired new justifications. This panel will problematize the changing landscapes of everyday life from the vantage point of emphasized forgetting, and ask how can the dialectic of memory be worked into the post-pandemic pedagogies. How do precariat and other subaltern bodies carry these memories while simultaneously participating in an everyday that insists upon the exhumation of them? What does this paradox imply for the project of oppressed peoples’ resistance? What does it mean especially for labour who found themselves at the centre when the world around them chose to (socially) distance themselves from earlier prevalences of empathy and solidarity, or even charity. What accountability can be expected from the state and the civil society on this? How are we to implicate labour unions and other resistance groups along with policymakers and developmental practitioners including CSR advocates, political activists and welfare workers, healers and counsellors, artists and performers, and media professionals into the post-pandemic occurrences of lapsing memory and emphasized forgetting?