Life in Lockdown

Lockdown Fever: Painting across Distance

Maruška Svašek
Reader in Anthropology

At the start of lockdown, having to miss out on life drawing sessions and driven by ongoing research into transnational family dynamics, communication technology and emotions (Svašek 2007; 2010; 2011; 2012; 2018; 2020), I started using Skype and WhatsApp to paint relatives and friends in their home environments. I am a migrant myself, who moved in 1998 from the Netherlands to Northern Ireland to take up a position as anthropology lecturer at Queen’s University Belfast. The act of painting across distance does not only offer the opportunity to spend time with distant people, but can also be used as innovative research method, resulting in insightful conversation and visual outcomes that can evoke  further comments and exchanges. In addition, the material outcomes can be gifted and recontextualised in all kinds of displays, and create a new visual world that captures the affective movement between different locations.

2007    ‘Emotions and Globalisation’, theme issue for Identities. Global Studies in Culture and Power (eds M Svašek and Z. Skrbiš).

2010    Who Cares? Emotional Interaction, Support and Ageing in Transnational Families. Report for Changing Ageing Partnership, Belfast: Queens University Belfast. 

2011    ‘Who Cares. Families and Feelings in Movement’ In: Robin Cohen and Gunvor Jonsson. (eds) Migration and Culture. Cheltenham: Edward Elgar, Pp 89-106.

2012    Emotions and Human Mobility. Ethnographies of Movement. London: Routledge. (ed. 
M. Svašek).

2018    ‘Ageing Kin, Proximity and Distance. Translocal Relatedness as Affective Practice and Movement’, in: Röttger-Rössler, Birgitt and Jan Slaby (eds) Affect in Relation. Families, Places, Technologies. Essays on Affectivity and Subject Formation in the 21th Century. London. Routledge.

2020    Filmed conference presentation ‘Materiality, Proximity and Distance: Covid-19, Mobility and People-Thing Dynamics’, Digital conference ‘Materializing the Transient’, University of Goettingen, Germany. See:

Talking with my sister on Skype, April 2020 
A photograph on WhatsApp, sent by my brother from India, April 2020
A photograph of my neighbour on my mobile, April 2020. This is part of an ongoing game, started during the second week of lockdown. One of us takes a picture in our neighbourhood on her mobile, and the other person has to guess where it is, taking a photograph as proof that they have found it. 
One of my best friends in the Netherlands on Skype as we are chatting about craft and art. In the background one of the pictures she sent me of herself to my mobile phone, May 2020
Unfinished painting of one of my Dutch cousins, painted during a WhatsApp video call, May 2020
Analysis of Impact / Covid-19

Article (excerpt) : ‘It’s going to be anarchy’

Jim Donaghey
Research Fellow

This article critiques a selection of the wide range of anarchist responses to the coronavirus/COVID-19 pandemic so far,[1] and discusses the currency of anarchist ideas in this profound crisis.[2] Different variants of anarchism hold to specific (though largely overlapping) political priorities, and these characteristics have been emphasised in the analyses of the pandemic crisis from across the anarchist spectrum. This could be interpreted as a kind of sectarian confirmation bias as people cling to their favoured ideologies like self-affirming life rafts, but anarchist ideas have, once again, gained some traction in the wider popular imagination. Anarchists of all stripes can, and should, contribute to this popularisation from their own specific perspectives, but we cannot remain confined within our comfortable echo chambers. Anarchist ideas are crucial at this moment as a bulwark against the ‘nightmare’ re-installation of ‘a savage neo-liberal system’ imposed by ‘powerful state violence’[3] – the ‘neo-liberal plague’[4] as Chomsky has recently termed it – and, as such, we must do everything we can to sustain and deepen the proliferation of anarchist thinking and organising in this moment.

Is it going to be anarchy?

In the midst of any crisis or disaster, swarms of commentators shrilly warn of the ‘anarchy’ that is about to befall us (unless we follow the specific course of action exhorted by that particular commentator, naturally). But, in the context of the coronavirus/COVID-19 pandemic crisis, we can identify numerous manifestations of the kinds of ‘anarchy’ we, as anarchists, would applaud. I don’t want to be glib – the reported death toll is already approaching 120,000 [5] globally, thousands upon thousands more people are going to die as a result of this pandemic, and millions upon millions will see their livelihoods upended by the economic recession and depression that is taking hold. Those apparently hyperbolic voices that cry, ‘it’s going to be anarchy’[6] aren’t entirely wrong – as Proudhon put it in his own adoption of the ‘anarchist’ nomenclature in 1840: ‘[t]he ordinary meaning attributed to the word “anarchy” is … as a synonym of “disorder”’.[7] But it is the ‘positive anarchy’ of a much more hopeful bent that has been a key trope of people’s response to the crisis. We should push this popularisation of anarchist ideas and anarchistic forms of organisation as far as possible against the oppressive trends of increased police powers and state surveillance. The pandemic crisis has called to a halt the political circus that Frank Zappa described as ‘the entertainment branch of industry’.[8] In place of ‘Politics’, more fundamental social issues have come to the fore, and anarchist ideas are resonating around those conversations.

In recent weeks, anarchistic language has become commonplace even beyond the plethora of anarchist media platforms, blogs, listservs and message boards. For example, mainstream/right-wing journalists have discussed UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s ‘libertarian mind’[9] struggling to come to terms with the huge state interventions that have been undertaken to try to tackle the pandemic. Jon Bigger, writing for Freedom News, has skewered that bogus application of anarcho-terminology, reminding us that the word has been ‘bastardised’ and that ‘to be really clear … Boris Johnson is not a libertarian’.[10]  Whatever shade of Tory Johnson was supposed to be prior to the crisis, he seems to have undergone a Damascene conversion, as evidenced by his statement on 29th March that ‘there really is such a thing as society’[11] (contra Thatcher – though he was already on his way to full communism with his ‘fuck business!’ blurt in June 2018[12]). The Belarusian president, Alexander Lukashenko, also struck a ‘libertarian’ pose, telling journalists while playing in an ice hockey match on 28th March that ‘it is better to die on your feet than live on your knees’.[13] In Ireland, the Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar, announced a tightening of ‘lockdown’ measures on 27th March with a paean to the virtues of freedom:

Freedom was hard won in our country, and it jars with us to restrict and limit individual liberties, even temporarily. But freedom is not an abstract concept. We give it meaning every single day – in the way we live our lives – and in the decisions we take willingly to protect our loved ones.[14]

Varadkar may have been attempting to deflect from the uncomfortable gaffe of paraphrasing Winston Churchill during his St. Patrick’s Day speech ten days prior,[15] but in any case, this extraordinary language from state ‘leaders’ would have been a ludicrous prospect just a few short weeks ago. We are a far cry from Politics-as-usual.

Life in Lockdown

A return to normal? But “I can’t breathe”

Francine Rossone de Paula
Lecturer in International Relations

In Belfast, groups of up to six people who do not share a household can meet up outdoors after the relaxation of lockdown last 25 May. There is now more movement in parks and public spaces. Despite the reputation of the city for its bad weather, the past weeks have been incredibly warm and sunny, and it feels alive as people gather under the sun and bright green trees. 

Belfast looks beautiful. The sight of so many people at the Botanic Gardens and the sound of excited teenagers meeting their friends after months in isolation bring us a sense of normality so many of us have been craving. Are we slowly but finally returning to life as it used to be?

Botanic Gardens, 28/05/2020

Imagining the possibility of returning to normal soon is inspiring, but it can also be extremely disturbing when we lose sight of what “normal” entails. I confess that instead of hope, I have responded to the repetition of “this shall pass” everywhere with some dose of anger and frustration since the beginning of this health crisis. While we all want things to get better, “crisis”, or a sense of “state of emergency”, is unfortunately a normalized condition of the everyday of minority groups in various societies. For these groups, “normal” means the continuation of a suffocating, threatening, and oppressive reality. It does not even make sense to talk about a return to normal when the current abnormality only exacerbated vulnerabilities without necessarily representing a rupture with how things used to be before COVID-19.

Normal in mathematics represents a symmetric distribution where cases cluster around the center, forming a bell-shaped curve. Normal, from the Latin word normalis, also means, more specifically, according to the rule or pattern. Considering these definitions, we could start by challenging claims that our pre-Covid-19 world was “normal”.   

A report from the Credit Suisse Global Wealth from 2019 found that the world’s richest 1 percent own 44 percent of the world’s wealth. Does that sound normal? The 2019 Global Multidimensional Poverty Index shows that 1.3 billion people worldwide are ‘multidimensionally poor’, and contrary to what one may assume about where these people are located, this study reveals that 2/3 of multidimensionally poor people live in middle-income countries. 

Worldwide, research projects are now investigating closely the relationship between COVID-19 and poverty. The World Bank has published last April a policy brief about Poverty and Distributional Impacts of COVID-19. The recommendation is that governments monitor and respond to the situation by implementing programs tailored to each context. The goal is to “mitigate” the impact. But what happens after the impact is mitigated? How is success or effectiveness going to be measured? Are we planning to go back to “normal” neoliberal agendas that reject any form of governmental programs aimed towards welfare and/or distribution of income?

The impact of the pandemic on people is not only disproportionally distributed according to their postcode, but also according to color and ethnicity. A video circulated in social media recently shows a doctor in the Mathira area of Uttar Pradesh, in India, affirming that they would only treat Hindus, not the Muslims. In Brazil, the population in favelas continues to be “found” by bullets and police operations have become even more aggressive during the pandemic. João Pedro Mattos, a 14-old boy from the favela complex of Salgueiro in Rio de Janeiro, was playing with his cousin in his living room when he was hit by a bullet during a police operation. An investigation of this case reveals that there were 72 bullet marks in the walls of this family’s house, what dismisses any affirmation that this was a stray bullet.  

According to a report by the Research Network Observatories of Security and the Centre of Studies in Security and Citizenship (CESeC), there was an increase in 56% in the lethality of police operations in 2019 (from June to October) in Rio de Janeiro alone. The latest data released by the Institute of Public Security (ISP), an organ associated with the State of Rio de Janeiro, shows that in April of 2020, as lockdown restrictions were more strictly imposed, there was an increase of 43% of deaths resulting not from COVID-19, but from police operations, in relation to the same period last year. In a single month, 177 people were killed in interventions by the State, affecting black people disproportionally. 

It would be easy to blame violence against citizens on the fact that Brazil is a “developing” or a “third world” country. However, this is further from the truth. The Washington Post’s database contains records of every fatal shooting in the United States by a police officer since 2015, and their data shows a total of 1,004 people killed by police in 2019, of which 23% were black. The number is even more significant when we consider that the Black or African American represents about 13,4% of the American population

George Floyd was one amongst many individuals victimized by a public security system designed to fail those who fall out of the standard, culturally, politically, or economically. In other words, a system who has always failed by design those positioned outside of what is historically valued as “normal”. In that sense, the normal is suffocating and invisibilising. Floyd’s last words are very emblematic: “I can’t breathe”. 

Minorities everywhere are constantly suffocated by the “sovereign State”, the rules, the standards, the expectations, and so on. Regardless of lockdown restrictions being imposed or lifted, their rights to come and go within their own societies or host countries have never been reliably honored. Their rights to go outside in groups and gather in public spaces are frequently seen with suspicious and severely repressed in that same world we called “normal”. So many people every year are drowned in the sea trying to flee persecution and/or misery, and terrified by the impossibility of ever meeting expectations of being “normal” or living a “normal” life. 

The viral phrase says, “We are all in the same storm, but not in the same boat.” As the storm resigns, there will be a lot of people still drowning and struggling with what “we” consider from this more privileged side an “ordinary wave”. Racism and inequality are as destructive and have a much longer history than coronavirus. As we hope for a definitive solution for coronavirus (hopefully a vaccine soon), the solution for that historical and long-lasting pandemic is a much more complicated issue. Those of us who have been lucky enough to be, to some extent, immune to the harsher effects of this other pandemic, should invest in the transformation of that condition and be part of the solution. First, one should at least wake up to the fact that it may be cruel to wish for “normality” as we know it. 

Image credits: © Barbara Kelley

This debate is much more complex that it could be expressed in a blog post, but to the question “Are we returning to normal?”, my answer is I hope not!