The global COVID-19 pandemic has robbed us of normal life, however ‘normal’ may be defined. Yet it has also (re)activated certain strands of cultural research that attempt to steer a path parallel to that of biomedical research. Why do we need Cultural Studies in the midst of this nightmarish period? Aside from reactivating and thinking with disciplinary specificities, the COVID crisis has fairly quickly prompted a realization from the early days of the pandemic that a situation far exceeding public health has emerged, with frightening epidemiological, social, cultural, and geopolitical implications. We issued a call for critical, short, and punchy thought pieces in May 2020 and received an overwhelming number of responses globally. In this Introduction, we attempt to outline a certain ‘grid of intelligibility’ that can be conferred upon three specific frames unique to the sort of response that Cultural Studies can make to COVID, frames that are shared in different ways among the contributors to this volume. The frames that we focus on include: the articulation of a cultural lifeworld of the pandemic (in a conscious attempt to connect with the lessons about the force of signification and public political deliberation learned from other pandemics, especially global AIDS); the manner in which COVID has been weaponized in government manoeuvres and in virulent forms of racialization; and the affective and bodily registers that mark our collective vulnerability. In this mapping, COVID multiplies semantically, politically, and corporeally. It is hoped that this Special Issue provides not only a sort of memory archive for what the world has gone through in 2020–21, but also hopefully some intellectual guidance for the way forward. Copyright © 2021 Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group.
CitationErni, J. N., & Striphas, T. (2021). Introduction: COVID-19, the multiplier. Cultural Studies, 35(2-3), 211-237. doi: 10.1080/09502386.2021.1903957