Humanities overcoming crises

By Elisabetta Cuccaro

The Covid-19 outbreak is a crisis that is showing us the true face of our society: the virus, in itself so ‘democratic’ -everybody can get it and die because of it-, reveals with crude realism the inequalities present in our times. The most vulnerable categories are suffering the most, their precarity enhanced. How can you stay home, if you have none? How can you wash your hands, if there is no water? We could say that the health crisis provoked by the virus is actually a symptom or an indicator of a deeper crisis. We call it ecological crisis, doomily summarized as climate change.

Of course, looking at this bigger crisis which is threatening our own survival as a species, the question that spontaneously arises is: what are the causes of climate change? How can we mitigate it (we are already so far that it is unavoidable)? Science is warning us since a very long time: “In 1972, Limits to Growth was published as the first worldwide report on the human environment. […] The report stated that if human habits did not change, industrial production did not revolutionize, and ecological concerns were not embedded in business models, the limits of the Earth’s resources would be reached in the next 50 to 100 years” [1].

Evidently, things did not take a different path: not only our habits did not drastically change, but also the very denial of the problem has been ongoing: “Faced with a crisis that threatens our survival as a species, our entire culture is continuing to do the very thing that caused the crisis, only with an extra dose of elbow grease behind it” [2]. We can agree that this denial seems to be the real problem, the scientific facts are ignored as not valid. But why? Following Castillo and Egginton, the spread of anti-intellectualism and the subsequent disregard for scientific indictments can be analyzed as follow: “The explanation for this apparently willful ignorance lies in today’s medialogy.”[3]. This statement summarizes in the concept of medialogy the problems of our times. This term, at once, describes both the partiality of media and their specific functioning as framing device. Medialogy, which can be intended as the logic of the media, is the current state in which media are used by a limited elite as the main tool to make people see reality in the way that will make the elite profit. The logic of medialogy is neoliberalism, and it works for the latter’s aims. Medialogy’s interpretation of the world reduces it into a series of exploitable resources, while the person is represented or intended just as a consumer. The aim of this frame is the unlimited growth of the market, its constant expansion, as well as an increase of profit. Our medialogy frames reality as such, pretending to be the only viable way of interpretation.

Thus, survival of our species seems to lie in a battle of interpretation, where what reality could be and how we should read it is at stake. Here the Humanities enters in the game, as the possible savior, being the field where to practice interpretation: “Literature, art, and philosophy have the capacity to teach us to think differently, precisely and especially when they are not captive to a strictly representationalist or objectivist logic. […] Reading literature and viewing art and thinking and writing about these experiences is the vital and indispensable foundation for any possible liberation from today’s medialogy and the self-destructive traps of desire it engenders”[4]. This because the Humanities allow us to see not just a different version of the world, but “[…] how the world can produce so many versions of itself”[5].

But here it emerges the hardest observation that is truly needed, the real crisis that the Humanities are facing. Humanities are a medicine nobody knows it is needed, and this ignorance is not only medialogy’s fault. In order to save the world, the Humanities have to overcome an even longer-lasting crisis: their own crisis, the crisis of culture tout court. A crisis brilliantly diagnosed already in 1936 by Denis de Rougemont in his book Penser avec les mains. He finds that the problem lies in the separation between culture and the productive world; in other words between intellectuals and who is described as “profane”, who is not an intellectual (I would say, who is busy with state or market affairs). De Rougemont believes that intellectuals are guilty: “The fault I imputed them (the intellectuals), is not to have badly guided public opinion. Rather, they have refused of guiding it, invoking the pretest of our cowardice: the pretest of impotence” [6]. What is the result? That culture speaks in a vacuum. This happens because: “[…] it asks nothing […] culture in considered as a commodity and not as an activity of production”[7]. The active side of culture has been lost. Culture should be a “battle, […] a means for fighting”[8]. Action and words have to join forces again, to change culture’s fate as well as human survival.

The Humanities resemble democracy in that they share the same risk of “talking to nobody”. Both should keep in mind that they have practical implications, as suggested by the title of George Huszar’s book Practical Implication of Democracy (1945). When he wrote his book, his worries were that: “[…] the nation might soon experience the kind of “disintegration” of democratic culture which enabled the rise of dictators in Europe and Japan. And this was because democracy had become a thing of words rather than actions. Huszar writes, “Democracy is something you do; not something you talk about. It is more than a form of government, or an attitude or opinion. It is participation” (xiii)”[9]. Paraphrasing it: culture is something you do. It is an active participation in the ongoing process of society. And today, this process needs all of our creativity and engagement for the good of our own survival. We need to imagine differently, and we need to make these alternative visions a shared value. This could be the duty of the Humanities right now: “In the all- pervasive market society, it is not enough to defend the value of the humanities in an increasingly corporatized university. Instead the humanities can and should go on the offensive to denounce the blinding effects of market fundamentalism and poke holes in the media- framed reality that’s coextensive with it”[10]. Humanities, let’s get our hands dirty.

Once we’re all agreed that we’re living in a world in ruins, the ways in which we go about tackling the possibilities for change are important. (Fabrizio Terranova in interview with Sophie Soukias, BRUZZ 2016).

Fabrizio Terranova’s Donna Haraway: Story Telling for Earthly Survival by, 2016.

Addendum in memory of George Floyd.

The world is trembling, injustices hit harder and riots cannot but spread.

It is not enough to be non-racist and we need to be anti-racist. Non-racism resembles the appearance of talk-democracy, while anti-racism the one of do-democracy. We need to be engaged, one by one, and take a stance, and our behavior has to follow our values, and our values have to shape our behaviors. I think the same of culture, of the Humanities. It is not enough to be non-ignorant. We need to be anti-ignorance. And maybe the combination of anti-ignorance, anti-racist, anti-homophobic acts and values will make the difference needed to break the spell.

[1]   N. Petrešin-Bachelez, On Slow Institutions, in How Institutions Think: Between Contemporary Art and Curatorial Discourse, eds. P. O’Neill, L. Steeds, M. Wilson, MIT Press, 2017, p. 41.

[2]   N. Klein, This Changes Everything, 2, quoted in D. Castillo, W. Egginton, The Humanities in the Age of Information and Post-Truth, Northwestern University Press, 2019, p. 99.

[3]   Ibid. p. 101

[4]   Ibid. p. 98.

[5]   Ibid. p. 97.

[6]   D. de Rougemont, Pensare con le mani. Le radici culturali della crisi europea, Transeuropa, 2012 p. 23

[7]   Ibid. p. 28.

[8]   Ibid. p. 33.


[10] D. Castillo, W. Egginton, The Humanities in the Age of Information and Post-Truth, Northwestern University Press, 2019, p. 103.

Whose Lives Matter. Precarity in Times of the Corona-Crisis

By Polyxeni Fotopoulou

The time of the Covid-19 pandemic has revealed the profound fissures of neoliberal capitalism.This pandemic discriminates against vulnerable people. This pandemic also allows and justifies state violence and constructs new modalities of living and co-existence under state surveillance tactics which demonstrate a problematic relation between the concept of freedom and security. To paraphrase Michel Foucault, this pandemic seems to be the utopia of the perfectly governed city (/society). In a more precise wording, it could be said that responsible for all the above is not the pandemic itself but the sociopolitical handling of it. Worldwide, presidents’ addresses highlight that we are all dealing with the same enemy. However, the only equal position that we have in the face of the corona crisis is that this virus threatens equally the health of all of us and our loved ones (Butler 2020). In this crisis we do not all have equal rights; homeless people are exposed to the virus, refugees are in camps unprotected without being provided with hygiene products, not everyone has equal access to health care, unemployment rises, there are more and more victims of domestic violence, there are more deaths of African-Americans than any other group in the U.S, there is racism against Asian people and populations are interpreted on the basis of a positivist and impersonal division between infected and non-infected bodies.

 Although the dichotomic conditions based on the sociopolitical dilemma of whose lives matter the most, solidarity between vulnerable people becomes their protective shield and a praxis of resistance against inequality. Collective initiatives of creating common spaces of solidarity and resistance emerged during the corona crisis shaping new social movements and collectives against these precarious conditions.

In historical moments of turbulent periods and great depressions, it is observed that spontaneous movements and collective actions emerge whose structure is usually not based on political parties ideologies and they deal with the precariousness of instability through alternative ways. I am referring to anti-fascist, anti-capitalist, anti- sexist, anti-homophobic and anti-transphobic collectives and movements which put clear boundaries against racism and they are in solidarity with vulnerable subjectivities. As Varvarousis and Kallis demonstrate; in a liminal period “sharing solidarity or horizontality are not introduced as indisputable a priori identity values. They emerge as the worth is experienced in practice in solving practical problems or in organizing collective actions”  (2017, 132). In other words, it could be said that in the initial phase of a crisis these collective actions function as initiatives of temporary relief of precarity. Particularly, in Commoning Against The Crisis (2017) Varvarousis and Kallis by focusing on the Greek Commoning Movement during Greece’s great depression (2009) present the idea of alternative commoning practices in periods of precarity claiming that these “new forms of commons follows a rhizomatic pattern” (2017, 129). Varvarousis and Kallis reflect this idea on Greek commoning initiatives and projects of austerity period such as the occupied squares by indignant citizens (Aganaktismenoi), communal kitchens and the occupations of Athens Metropolitan Clinic, Plato’s Academy, Empros,Vox, Scholeio, Hellenico, etc. where since the election of the current government (2019) the majority of them was violently evicted by police forces. Some of these commoning initiatives such as Aganaktismenoi (Indignant Citizens Movement) of Syntagma square (2010) became rhizomatic, namely “they have no center or periphery…and they are not stable but appear and disappear within a highly accelerating spiral” and others are still sustained till today and adapt to the new conditions such as the communal kitchens and occupations (ibid.,141-144) . While the Indignant Citizens Movement started as a collective spontaneous anti-austerity initiative, after a while the square was divided into the lower and the upper part(ibid.,138). This distinction had to do mainly with the “different functions of each zones”; the upper part in front of the Parliament was identified by protests “with the presence of nationalists or xenophobes” while the lower part was a space of “settlement, discussion and creation” (ibid., 138). In 2011, the presence of the Aganaktismenoi Movement in Syntagma square began gradually to weaken especially due to the violent intervention of police forces. Varvarousis and Kallis’ study shows us thoroughly how Greece, despite its deep rooted tradition in party interdependence, started to believe in the potentiality of heterogeneous assemblies with anti-capitalist and anti-racist character as well as in the existence of commoning initiatives outside the party orientation and hierarchy. The evolution of this phenomenon can be seen in recent movement of #SupportArtWorkers that started by people of the Greek art scene in May 2020 in the face of the corona crisis claiming support for the arts and cultural sector which has been particularly affected by the general lockdown.

Although the recent Greek extremely conservative government represents itself in local and international mainstream media as a great “rescuer” protecting Greek people from the “invisible enemy” some important visible facts are missing from this representation. Importantly, since the beginning of the corona crisis a number of significant shortages emerged in the public health care system such as shortages of ICUs (Intensive care units) and insufficient number of medical supplies, such as shortages of medical face masks, gloves and antiseptics. On top of that, according to the government decree which was published at the beginning of Covid-19 outbreak, due to the lack of medical staff in public hospitals doctors are forced to work overtime and to perform overnight duties without getting paid.

Furthermore, numerous professions that have been hit by the pandemic are not included in the two-month state support allowance. In particular, the Greek government is completely indifferent about the irreparable damage of the sector of Arts and Culture as theater performances, concerts, dance performances, museums and gallery exhibitions have been postponed until this summer. In the face of this precarity, in May art workers started on Avaaz webpage – one of the most known nonprofit organizations which promotes activist practices – an initiative of gathering signatures asking for solidarity support in their fight against the marginalization of Greek art workers. The movement appears on Facebook and in other social media with the hashtag #SupportArtWorkers, and art workers have already held a number of performances in public spaces and protest rallies in Athens, Thessaloniki and other Greek cities publicizing their demands. (1) May, 10, 2020

The “Art Workers Initiative” claims three key rights: firstly the enactment of a long term support plan which will contribute to the economic recovery of Arts and Culture sector, secondly the radical reformation of Cultural workers’ rights, as especially musicians and songwriters have for decades been enduring the results of a flawed and non-transparent system, and thirdly the governmental decision for an immediate and precise plan of the gradual return of Arts and Culture sector as it has already been announced for other professional sectors. The #SupportArtWorkers movement is not connected to any institution, organization or party-based politics, it is a spontaneous initiative which through these demands pursues to claim the immediate relief of art workers’ suffering. The spontaneous gatherings of art workers in squares and public spaces through dancing, singing and performing acquire a festive, powerful and bodily character. The forcefulness, the peacefulness and the non-hierarchical principles of the #SupportArtWorkers movement reminds us of the pulse of the first period of the Indignant Citizens Movement. The Art workers’ movement either becomes rhizomatic or expands to claim further fundamental rights, at least for now it has achieved to create a solidarity circle and a common space of resistance where art workers claim their rights which have been depreciated by the Greek state. 

@alicemdogan. Twitter Photo. May 21 2008, 2020. Accessed May 28, 2020.             

Some of us constantly live under the “feeling of precariousness” with a “damaged sense of future” related to the fear of unemployment, the “anxiety of illness and mortality” – especially if we do not have the privilege to be covered by health insurance – and the fear of the threat of violence (Butler & Athanasiou 2013, 43). In this crucial sociopolitical moment of high precarity, solidarity and collectiviness between us, the vulnerable, seem to be (once again) our only option.


Butler, Judith. “Capitalism Has its Limits”. Verso. March 30, 2020.

Butler, Judith and Athena Athanasiou.“Dispossession: The performative in the political.” John Wiley & Sons, 2013.

Foucault, Michel. “Discipline and Punish: the Birth of the Prison.” Trans. Alan Sheridan. New York: Vintage 1 (1995): 977.

Varvarousis, Aggelos, and Giorgos Kallis. “Commoning against the crisis.” Another Economy is Possible: Culture and Economy in a Time of Crisis, 2017, 128-159.

Commoning during times of crisis

By Maria Méndez

In the short story “La autopista del Sur” (The Southern Thruway, 1966) the Argentinian writer Julio Cortázar narrates a highway traffic jam on a Sunday afternoon. After several hours, all calculations of yards versus time become useless, and the characters begin to speculate about what has paralyzed traffic to such an extent. A few days later, with no conclusive news, the people get out of their cars and begin to constitute modes of organization: they put together all the food and water they have and ration them; they start sharing cushions and blankets at night; and they create a common fund to buy more provisions for everyone whenever necessary. In addition, as weeks pass and the weather gets colder, they create an inventory of coats and sweaters available in the group; and since people cannot afford to keep the heaters on all the time because of battery life, they decide to reserve the two best equipped cars for the sick. The traffic jam is so big that beyond this specific group, other cells become organized and face similar problems. Around them, there are fields and farms, but no one approaches them to help.

© mxpxche_ybarra. Accessed June 3, 2020.

Finally, one day, after various changes in terms of seasons and what could have been weeks or months, the traffic finally clears up and people are able to drive back to the city. Amid the excitement, the protagonist realizes the created sense of community has been lost in a split second, but he keeps moving, “[…] not knowing why all this hurry, why this mad race in the night among cars, where no one knew anything about the others, where everyone looked straight ahead, only ahead” (Cortázar 29).

There are a few factors present in the story by Cortázar that are applicable to the real world during times of crisis. For instance, the way in which the story unfolds is a good example of the ideas posed by Elinor Ostrom’s research, as “more often than not communities self-organize and manage to control access and use of shared resources” (Varvarousis and Kallis 30). In this line of reasoning, the main drive behind commoning is “always bounded to an economic reasoning directly related to a community’s survival” (Ibidem). Varvarousis and Kallis suggest to approach these alternative economies and practices as commoning projects, thus “emphasizing processes of cooperation and sharing that produce new forms of economy and also new forms of living in common” (ibidem). The authors further argue that often times these new commons are generated through liminal conditions, which leads to an “in-betweenness” that makes it possible for individuals to forego (at least temporarily) their fixed identity.

Cortazar’s story shows this both metaphorically and explicitly: during the traffic jam, people are not known by their names, but by the cars they are driving; as names stop being important, the characters let go of a vital part of their identity. Moreover, while being stuck on a highway, they are quite literally in between places. These are people from all over the country, some of them foreigners, and what brings them together is the fight to survive on the highway for as long as necessary; as explained by Varvarousis and Kallis, “in a liminal commons, the glue that brings the actors together is the practical production of the common” (131). Further, the need for this is brought forward by the crisis. Thus, the dynamic created by the traffic jam is “the result of the loss of an established identity, which allows space for a precarious and fluid ‘we’ to emerge” (Idem 132). As the state fails to provide for them and simply claims to work on the road, the people in the story find an alternative social organization.

© mxpxche_ybarra. Accessed June 3, 2020.

Now, some aspects of the current health crisis can also be compared to Cortazar’s story. As we approach day 80 (is it?) of staying at home, there is a sense of time not mattering as much, of the days flowing into each other in a stagnant way, similar to the traffic jam. Secondly, there is an urgency to go back to our “normal” lives that is not questioned enough: in the story, this is portrayed when, in the last minute, the sense of community created by the characters is immediately and unavoidably forgotten.

However, this leads to a key difference between reality and fiction that must be mentioned. Although in these times there is, to some extent, a sense of community worldwide that stems from the fact that we are all fighting against the same threat; the story can unfortunately seem a bit utopian as, for instance, distribution of resources and provisions across the world has never been done fairly and is still not being done fairly now. In addition, new complications arise since, as explained by Doug Antin in an article for Medium, “a global pandemic creates a tragedy of the commons when self-interest conflicts with the actions that need to be taken for the greater good”. This is easily exemplified by the hoarding of groceries, toilet paper or personal protective equipment, but can also be applied to controversies about the duration of lockdowns and moreover, the use of economic resources to help various nations through the upcoming crisis. 

On another note, a health crisis as grave as this one entails an added tragedy for the commons, since commoning is based on gathering and there is currently a clear impossibility around this. Hence, we have to resort to a new way of commoning, one that is applicable to the circumstances we are facing today. (1)

Although I do not have an answer for the puzzle this creates, I do know one thing: the current health crisis and the imminent climate one call for what the sociologist Ulrich Beck urges as a “global” response. If we turn towards the arts and humanities, we can surely find examples of this to inspire us – even if they are utopian or only metaphorically applicable, such as the one in The Southern Thruway. In this way, we might be able to let go of (parts of) our national identities and personal interests, even if just temporarily, for the common good.


Antin, Doug. “How Coronavirus Creates A Tragedy of The Commons”, Medium, March 2020. Web. May 2020.

Cortázar, Julio. “The Southern Thruway”, in All Fires the Fire and Other Stories, Marion Boyars Publishers Ltd, 1993.

Varvarousis, Angelos and Giorgos Kallis. “Commoning Against the Crisis” in Another Economy in a Time of Crisis. Ed. Manuel Castells, Polity, 2017.

Wimmer,  Jeffrey, and Thorsten Quandt. “Living in the Risk Society: An Interview with Ulrich Beck” in Journalism Studies, vol. 7, no. 2, 2006, pp. 336-347.

(1) An example of this would be some sort of virtual commons. For instance, the Mexican initiative, which is dedicated to share, through their digital platform, an inventory of initiatives which are worth common funding knowing about.

Abruptly Altered Horizons: Covid-19, Momentous Events and a Not so Rare Phenomenon in Historical Reception Studies

By Julian Hanich

In this brief essay I draw attention to the effects that momentous historical events – such as the Covid-19 pandemic, the Brexit referendum or the 9/11 attacks – can have on a film viewer’s interpretive horizon. How we interpret films that were shot long before the event can be altered rather abruptly with the onset of the event and we seem to see the film with different eyes.

The essay appeared in the Zeitschrift für Medienwissenschaft: Open Media Studies Blog:

Click to read the blog.

Why Foucault would encourage us to criticise the Corona measures

by Nicki Günther

After about eight weeks of an ‘intelligent lockdown’, people in the Netherlands are looking forward to the first of June. Then, according to the press conference by the Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte on May 19th, restaurants, coffee shops, and cinemas may re-open for a maximum amount of thirty people at a time, excluding staff. Preconditions for being allowed to have a dinner at a restaurant, or to enjoy an ice cold beer on a sunny public terrace are that visitors make a reservation in advance and pass a pre-health check, which means that they declare to not have any symptoms which could be related to the corona-virus. Another precondition for the resumption of public life is by now so self-explanatory that it almost goes unmentioned; at all times, a minimum distance of 1.5 meter from each other must be maintained. If this is not possible, protective means such as mouth caps need to be used. Further regulations concern, among others, gatherings, sports and visiting old people’s homes (Rijksoverheid 19-5-2020).

© Paul Rapp. Accessed May 26, 2020.

Regulations and guide-lines that may sound clear in a press conference, create quite some ambiguities in practice. One ambiguous aspect was touched upon by Ulrich Beck long before the crisis. While politicians communicate the regulations by using terms such as ‘family’ and ‘household’, those concepts are no longer defined in a contemporary way (Wimmer and Quandt 2007). Cycling trough the city last week, I came across a group of four young people, discussing with two police officers about if they get a fine or not, for drinking beer together in front of a house. While the police defined this as a forbidden gathering, the boys explained that all four of them live together in a student house. As they would therefore count as a household, none of them had done anything wrong. I would have loved to hear the outcome of this discussion, but being aware of the prohibition of gathering, as an outsider to this conflict, I did not dare to stand still for too long and quickly cycled on when my eyes and the ones of the police man met.

Foto: Jaspar Moulijn. Accessed May 26, 2020.

This situation raises a number of interesting questions. The most obviously one, namely who is right, the police or the boys, confirms Beck’s claim that many societal concepts are no longer justifiable. However, much more interesting are the reasons why the boys did or did not stick to the rules, or why the Corona-crisis ensures that I suddenly no longer dare to stand still or move freely on sidewalks and cycling paths. Why do some people shout at you if you accidently cross their way on only one meter distance in the much too narrow supermarket aisles, while other do not seem to care too much about social-distancing measurements? An explanation can again be found in the writings of a philosopher, dating back way before the Corona-crisis.

Already in 1995, in his book Discipline and Punish, Michel Foucault wrote about quarantine during the plague as a means of discipling people. Even though people were physically able to go outside, different to inmates of asylums or prisons, people stayed at home. The mechanisms which ensured that people did not leave their houses were surveillance and the threat of the disease (Foucault 1995). While elaborating on these disciplining mechanisms at the end of the last millennium, Foucault could not have foreseen that his theories would be so topical and relevant again today. Suddenly, the concept of ‘biopower’ is on everyone’s lips again (Clover 2020, Latour 2020). Foucault describes biopower as “the set of mechanisms through which the basic biological features of the human species become the object of a political strategy, of a general strategy of power” (Foucault 1977-78, 16). This strategic implementation of power is exemplified in his analysis of states’ health care systems, through which states in the end decide who lives or dies (Foucault 1995). However, these power-structures are already noticeable far earlier. It begins with the fact that authorities such as doctors determine what is health and what is illness (Foucault 1988). Based upon their categorisation, the government, represented, for example, by the Dutch minister for public health, Hugo de Jonge, determine who may soon visit a restaurant, use public transfer or even leave the house for groceries.

“Lange rijen, volle karren en geen aardappelen meer in de Jumbo aan de Westduinweg.” © Frank Jansen.

The reason why we (more or less) follow these rules lays in the fact that we, as a part of a society or population, form an active part of the dominant power-system we life in. “By means of a whole ensemble of regulated communications (lessons, questions and answers, orders, exhortations, coded signs of obedience, differentiation marks of the “value” of each person and of the levels of knowledge) and by the means of a whole series of power processes (enclosure, surveillance, reward and punishment, the pyramidal hierarchy)” (Foucault 1982) we have internalised social behavioural measurements since childhood. Contrary to what we are often led to believe, Foucault stated that all of these norms and regulations are not grounded in one universal true rationality, instead, there are many different realities, dependent on the different dominant power systems (Rabinow & Rose 2006).

Just as little are the current corona-crisis approaches and related government measurements based upon one universal truth. That different power-systems go along with different regulations can be seen by comparing the crisis-related regulations of different countries. Therefore, this current crisis invites every one of us to critically question the current measurements and driving forces of current developments. With this, I am not implying in any way that we should ignore the government regulations and thereby endanger the lives of our fellow human beings. Especially older people or the ones with poor health definitely need special protection. However, what I am asking for is that every one of us needs to use his/her common sense by following or implementing the rules, and should criticise them were necessary. In his last press conference, Rutte explicitly invited the younger generations to engage in a dialogue and actively participate in shaping the future during and after Corona. We definitely should follow up his call, as not all current measurements make sense if adapted to the practice one by one. Many people spoke up during the last weeks, criticising the no-visit policy for old people’s homes. Again, we should not endanger the lives of others, however, if our 90-years-old grandmothers still live on their own, we should discuss with them directly, if suffering from Covid-19 would really be worse for them than suffering from loneliness. Even though, we are supposed to minimalize our social contacts and keep a distance, if a young and healthy friend of ours is really sad, the most reasonable, in my opinion, is to give him/her a hug anyway. If only focussing on our officially home addresses registered on our passports, my boyfriend and me do not form a household and would therefore be supposed to keep a 1,5 meter distance in public. Off course, we don’t do this. Yet, this is not a case of us breaking the rules, but of implying them by using our common sense, and realising that ‘household’ is not a fixed concept. Instead, such as the other concepts and measurements, this rule needs to be critically evaluated by every one of us.


  • Clover, Joshua. 2020.The Rise and Fall of Biopolitics: A Response to Bruno Latour.” In Critical Inquiry. Accessed May 7, 2020.
  • Foucault, Michel. 1995. Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison. New York: Vintage Books.
  • Foucault, Michel. 1988. Madness and Civilization: A History of Insanity in the Age of Reason. New York: Vintage Books.
  • Foucault, Michel. 1982. “The Subject and Power.” In Critical Inquiry (8) no. 4, 777-795.
  • Foucault, Michel. 2007. Security, Territory, Population: Lectures at the College de France 1977-78. Ed. Michel Senellart. Transl. Graham Burchell. London: Pelgrave Macmillan.
  • Latour, Bruno. 2020. “Is This a Dress Rehearsal?” In Critical Inquiry. Accessed May 7, 2020.
  • Rabinow, Paul, and Nikolas Rose. 2006. “Biopower Today”. In: Bio Societies (1), 195-217.
  • Rijksoverheid. “Videos persconferenties coronavirus: Persconferentie 19-5-2020.” Accessed May 21, 2020.
  • Wimmer,  Jeffrey, and Thorsten Quandt. 2006. “Living in the Risk Society: An Interview with Ulrich Beck.” In: Journalism Studies (7) no. 2, 336-347.

A Response to Slavoj Zizek’s “Global Communism”


In the article Slavoj Zizek: Coronavirus is ‘Kill Bill’-esque blow to capitalism and could lead to reinvention of communism on, Zizek elaborates on phenomena people have experienced during this pandemic, which he believes is a fatal attack on not only the communist rule in China, but also and more importantly, on the capitalist system in the world, and he argues the necessity of a radical change – the reinvention of communism based on trust in the people and in science. Zizek sees this as an “ideological virus” that he wishes could “spread and infect us”. Related to the pandemic, Zizek brings up Fredric Jameson’s attention on cosmic catastrophes in the movies that always boost global solidarity. In order to avoid misunderstandings, he emphasizes it’s not that he enjoys the widespread sufferings, the point is that it’s sad that the solidarity doesn’t appear without a catastrophe. No matter the cause, Zizek makes it clear what is the result of these catastrophes: a global coordination (modeled after the World Health Organization) that should be given more executive power. In the following part of the article, Zizek doesn’t hide his opposition to capitalism. He criticizes the “capitalist animism” manifested during the pandemic and argues that the disturbed world market indicates an urgent need for a reorganization of the world economy. In the end he introduces Viktor Orban’s words: “There is no such thing as a liberal. A liberal is nothing more than a communist with a diploma” and advocates his ideal communism – liberals with a diploma.

It is valuable to hear different voices in a society, based on which Zizek’s idea is valuable in itself. But this utopian thinking is not solid enough to persuade. Let aside the discussion on whether it’s a good idea, it’s questionable whether the idea is even possible. In the article Zizek argues that it’s sad that the world needs a catastrophe to be really united, as if the global solidarity and coordination that he advocates can be achieved through a catastrophe, however sad it might be. However, the fact we currently see is even sadder, with this catastrophe – the global pandemic –  global solidarity and coordination seems to not even happening, if one takes a glance at the prevailing news on China and the US’s blaming each other, or Germany’s intercepting Switzerland’s masks. On the other hand, yes, liberals with diplomas sound promising, but in Zizek’s article it seems so urgent that we need to replace the capitalist system with this communism. The problem is, can the liberal population graduate and get their diploma in such a short time? Not even mentioning the segment of people who don’t even believe in liberalism. In addition, Zizek suggests a global healthcare network, but would all the participants abide by all the rules so that it’s fair for all participant states? It’s also a question if one takes a look on whether the Chinese Communist Party has abided by all the clauses negotiated and signed by themselves when China entered WTO.

Despite what’s mentioned above, the bigger question to ask is actually whether it is so urgent and correct that we need to replace capitalism with Zizek’s new communism. In the article Zizek doubts the smooth running of the world market which is true, but there’s no evidence that a powerful global executive power organized by human intelligence can run the market smoother in a time of crisis as this pandemic. What’s to be worried is the efficiency of a heavily burdened big government, global or national. Based on what’s shown in China, bigger executive power requires bigger organizational structure which diminishes the efficiency in action, so the question is how to build a global executive power big enough to handle worldwide urgent issue yet keep a high efficiency. In the end, an example about masks manifested in the pandemic tells a story that actually favors capitalism mechanism: back in the time when the corona virus started to spread in China, the market request of masks naturally raised, which needed to be fulfill through a higher mask productivity which can be achieved through higher profitability. However, in order to make sure the majority can afford a mask, the Chinese big government intervened in the market and set rules that limited mask prices, which led to a fact that, with a higher production cost (higher cost in labour, raw material, and freight) and un-raised price, many mask manufacturers went bankrupted or stopped producing masks to avoid bankruptcy. As one factory owner said, they want to help and would continue producing masks even if there’s zero profit, but the reality is they lose money every time they produce and sell a mask, so they had to stop because they can’t afford to help. This price limitation policy, with a good will, led to a phenomenon that the mask productivity significantly went down in a time that masks are hugely needed, which then made even those who wish to get a mask in a higher price can’t buy one. So, when China got hit by the “Five Point Palm Exploding Heart Technique” and sat and went through the price limitation policy, would they reconsider to let the invisible hand freely run the market and let the price go up? Would the situation be better if they allow high prices that generate a high profitability that attracts more investment in the mask industry and drives all the mask manufacturers to conduct production in their full productivity? In this case, maybe capitalism is still working, even in a time of crisis as such, and communism can better be achieved through the development of productivity that takes time and goes natural than a political structure design motivated by urgent call.

Concepts of Crisis

By Louise Vanhee

“Only a crisis – actual or perceived – produces real change. When that crisis occurs, the actions that are taken depend on the ideas that are lying around.” — Milton Friedman

Reinhart Koselleck provides us with a historical and etymological reading of the word crisis. The word crisis finds its origin in ancient Greek with various meanings attached to it; to “separate” (part, divorce), to “choose,” to “judge,” to “decide”; as a means of “measuring oneself,” “to quarrel,” or “to fight” (1). In ancient Greece, it had a predominantly political meaning. Later on, it was used to describe military situations, illness, religious occurrences, economic events, etc. The vast amount of historical events that Koselleck describes in detail, pertaining to the use of the word crisis and its meaning in that specific event, leads us to believe that it’s often used in a different manner and with different connotations. He even sums up four interpretative possibilities; crisis can mean “a chain of events leading to a culminating, decisive point at which action is required”, “a unique and final point, after which the quality of history will be changed forever”, “a permanent or conditional category pointing to a critical situation which may constantly recur or else to situations in which decisions have momentous consequences”, or “a historically immanent transitional phase”.

Looking at these four possibilities and returning back to the root(s) of the word crisis, the core concept of what makes something a crisis is quite clear. Crisis has to do with something that challenges us – or one person, or a specific group of people – and requires us to make a decision. It is not something that will resolve itself on its own. Sometimes this decision is made hastily and in an unconscious matter. Nevertheless, the decision – or multiple decisions – that ultimately resolves the crisis or attempts to, changes the situation drastically.

This is exactly what Noami Klein warns us about. We are now in the midst of a global crisis, and decisions have to be made – will be made, that is inevitable. Whether those will be ‘good’ decisions or ‘bad’ decisions, that is still undecided. The fortunate elite of the world will always be the first to gather knowledge about an upcoming crisis: “What causes the crisis? Who is at risk? How can we prevent it?” but also “How can we profit from it?” The corona crisis has made it abundantly clear that the schism between poor and rich is still very much intact, and much larger than we gave it credit for in certain places. Whilst homeless people in Las Vegas were ordered to sleep in the same parking lot, in freshly painted squares separating them from each other at the required 1,5 meters, the multimillion dollar corporations behind the casinos and hotels had other issues to deal with (2). Locks. The ‘24h-365 days a year’ Las Vegas strip has never in its history closed down and was now confronted with the issue of having to put locks on all the casinos and hotels.

Why not use one of the hundred now empty hotels to house these people in temporarily? Because that idea had never been ‘lying around’? According to Klein, times of crisis will be used to enhance the fortune of the richest corporations, and to politically make dubious decisions while the rest of the country is dazed and confused in the midst of the crisis. Remember that the rich always see it coming first? They are more informed and knowledgeable — and simply put, rich — and therefore able to adapt to the crisis much faster than normal people. They will attempt to push ideas that enhance their profit that previously seemed too outlandish, but now in a crisis atmosphere might pass. Klein argues that the same tactic should be used by others ­— those with ‘good’ intentions — as they also have a stack of ideas lying around that could now finally be implemented.

Are the only tools we have to fight a crisis really the ideas that are already ‘lying around’? Or can we create new ideas during the crisis, inspired by the crisis? I believe we can. Otherwise we have to believe that somebody once had an idea of putting a bunch of homeless people in imaginary boxes on a parking lot, and that this was the idea which was the most convenient and suitable to address this crisis — and that it was ‘lying around’. Just like Koselleck quoted Paine: “These are the times that try men’s souls”, I strongly believe that this is true. We are being challenged, and decisions must be made. But a crisis sometimes confronts us with questions that don’t have answers yet. Occasionally, we might be able to adjust an old idea that was ‘lying around’ to provide the necessary solution. But often, we have to think quick on our feet and come up with something completely new. New ideas that surface during a crisis are not any less viable in my eyes. Perhaps they will take longer to be implemented than ‘old ones’, but they are no less important. California’s governor Gavin Newsom proved this when implementing ‘Project Roomkey’ at the end of April to house the homeless during the pandemic. In the five weeks since the start of the program, over 7000 people have been provided with temporary shelter (3). Unlike Las Vegas, California is not only using empty hotels to house the at-risk homeless population, but has also set up unsold trailers and RV’s to function as temporary housing. Many homeless advocates and state officials are now realizing the benefits of this setup and new ideas have sprung up that might allow this initiative to become permanent. Jennifer Friedenbach, director of San Francisco’s Coalition on Homelessness, argues that some hotels might go bankrupt due to the crisis and could easily be bought up by the government to allow the shelter to remain while at the same time giving the community an economic impulse (4).

I am not yet able to give you a list of all the questions that surround the arts and humanities during this crisis, nor am I able to provide any solutions either. But perhaps, after some contemplation, I will find an idea that was lying around. Or I’ll think of something completely new.

(1) Kosselleck, R. & Richter, M. W. (Apr., 2006). Crisis. In Journal of the History of Ideas, (Vol. 67, no. 2), pp. 357-400. University of Pennsylvania Press. Retrieved May 08, 2020, from:

(2) Koran, M. (March 31, 2020). Las Vegas parking lot turned into ‘homeless shelter’ with social distancing markers. The Guardian. Retrieved May 08, 2020, from:

(3) Palmer, P. (May 15, 2020). Project Roomkey: Can state program help resolve Los Angeles homelessness? Eyewitness News. Retrieved May 18, 2020, from:

(4) Kim, C. (Apr 21, 2020). It took a pandemic for cities to finally address homelessness. Vox. Retrieved May 18, 2020, from:

Culturele democratie vraagt om ander cultuurbeleid

Johan Kolsteeg, Geert Drion, Barend van Heusden, resp. universitair docent, promovendus en hoogleraar bij de opleiding Kunsten, Cultuur en Media van de Rijksuniversiteit Groningen.

Later dit jaar vindt in Groningen voor het derde jaar het project De Wijk de Wereld plaats. Een week lang is de Stadsschouwburg het domein van wijkbewoners en hun verhalen. De Wijk de Wereld wordt alom gezien als een geslaagd voorbeeld van participatie in cultuur. 

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Mayor Pete Goes to Washington

By Quirijn van den Hoogen

Dreaming is allowed, isn’t it? Last week the results of the Democratic caucus in Iowa came in. Mayor Pete Buttigieg beat Bernie Sanders by a hair. Quite unexpectedly. America took the very first steps towards electing an openly gay president. I highly doubt it will actually happen. But I am allowed to dream, to think the unthinkable. Aren’t I? It would be some election: Boot-Edge-Edge beats Make America Great Again, although on Castro Street that slogan has already been dubbed into Make America Gay Again.

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And Nothing but the Truth

By Johan Kolsteeg

A recent experience made me aware once more of all things concerning facts, truth, politics, democracy, public space and the role of artists in reveiling their unstable relations. This happened to me when I attended a presentation in Utrecht on Forensic Architecture, organized by  BAK: Base for Art, Knowledge and the Political. Forensic Architecture is a research agency based at Goldsmiths University of London and  is regularly commissioned to reconstruct forensics in cases concerning crimes purportedly committed by governments. Multidisciplinary teams process overwhelming amounts of audio and video data into detailed reconstructions, which often betray the fallaciousness of government accounts.

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