COVID-19 Narrative Research Seminar - 24 August 2022

COVID-19 Narrative Research Seminar - 24 August 2022

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Date and time


Online event

COVID-19 Narrative Research Seminar - Pandemic biopolitics

About this event

Join us for a seminar on the politics of individual and collective responses to the pandemic.

All welcome!


San Francisco: 9am to 10:30am

London: 5pm to 6:30pm

Johannesburg: 6pm tp 7:30pm

Melbourne (sleep time and catch up with the recordings later :))

Image: "Lectern sign carrying the message 'Stay Alert. Control the Virus. Save Lives' (sign)" is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 4.0.

Abstracts + Bios

Queer men in the UK negotiating biosexual citizenship during COVID-19

Ingrid Young

UK advice at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, as in many other places, was to limit contact with anyone outside your household. This had implications not only for work, travel and social contact, but for intimate contact and sexual relations. While public health advice eventually allowed for contact within extended household ‘bubbles’, many sexual health organisations – including those working with queer communities - advocated abstinence for those not living with sexual partners in the face of this public health threat. Somewhat reminiscent of early abstinence responses to HIV in the 1980s, communities were faced with navigating social pressures around and limited information on how to reduce harms in their intimate lives. In this presentation, I draw on in-depth qualitative interviews with 43 queer men in London and Edinburgh, to investigate experiences of sexual and intimate practices during COVID-19, and in particular, strategies of ‘safer sex’, harm reduction and care. These interviews were part of an interdisciplinary project – Digital Intimacies – which sought to understand how smartphones mediated cultures of intimacy for communities of queer men in the UK. I use the concept biosexual citizenship (Epstein 2018) to explore how our participants navigated notions of intimacy, health, harm reduction and ‘responsibility’ in the context of an emerging public health crisis. I argue that rather than being ‘good’ or ‘bad’ biosexual citizens, queer men developed an array of ethically reflexive strategies in order to navigate the difficult terrain they have had to face when pursing cultures of sex and intimacy during the pandemic.

Bio: Ingrid Young is a Senior Lecturer in the Centre for Biomedicine, Self and Society at the University of Edinburgh. She is a medical sociologist who works with qualitative methods, including arts-based and participatory methods. She is particularly interested in how experiences of and inequalities across gender, sexualities, race and technologies shape sexual health and wellbeing. Her research explores sexual and reproductive health and social justice, pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP), critical HIV literacies, LGBTQ+ health, and health activisms. She has been an active member of the Scottish Interdisciplinary Research in Sexual Health (IReSH) Network, which works collaboratively with clinical, community and research partners. She is currently working on a monograph with Jamie Hakim (Kings) and James Cummings (York) on their ESRC funded project Digital Intimacies: how queer men use smartphones to negotiate their cultures of intimacy.

A Winter of Severe Illness and Death: “Culture,” “Behavior,” and Biopolitics in US COVID Policy

Martha Lincoln

Under both Republican and Democratic leaders, the mismanagement of the COVID-19 pandemic in the United States has entailed exceptional levels of illness, disability, and death. Both administrations have justified these outcomes in biopolitical terms: while the Trump government explained its losses by invoking a much-critiqued biopolitics of disposability, the Biden administration has chiefly positioned its failures to control COVID-19 by reference to the noncompliance of unvaccinated Americans and other putative bad actors—thus scapegoating allegedly deviant, unsanitary, and miseducated individuals. Simultaneously, however, the Democratic administration has accommodated elite calls for a return to pre-pandemic sociality, tacitly endorsing a status quo of differential risk in which vulnerable groups must confront, in the administration’s words, “a winter of severe illness and death.” These maneuvers have been mystified by reference to a punitive construct of “culture” that is used to blame victims, shore up “the right to maim” (Puar 2017), and advance a biopoliticized public health.

Bio: Martha Lincoln is Assistant Professor of Medical and Cultural Anthropology at San Francisco State University. Broadly, her research addresses the cultural politics of public health, biopolitics, and the effects of political economic change on public health outcomes. Her comments on the social and cultural dimensions of the COVID-19 pandemic have appeared in US and international media. In 2021, her book Epidemic Politics in Contemporary Vietnam: Public Health and the State was published by Bloomsbury Academic.

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