Weaponizing COVID-19: A cultural chronicle

Research output: Contribution to conferencePapers


COVID-19 has (re)activated certain strands of cultural research that attempt to steer a path different from that of biomedical research. Why do we need cultural studies in the midst of this nightmarish period? I want to speak about a certain “grid of intelligibility” that can be conferred upon two specific dimensions that cultural studies should urgently speak to, namely the cultural archive of the pandemic, and the manner in which COVID has been weaponized in government manoeuvres and in virulent forms of racialization. I shall first explore the popular cultural lifeworld of COVID through the many myths, urban legends, and conspiracies, in order to point out the obvious: much of the pandemic is utterly unknowable. But the unknowable is no laughing matter. In thinking about how this deadly serious matter of knowing/unknowing has spawned a landmark tradition in cultural research of public health, I suggest we rearticulate the work on the cultural politics of HIV/AIDS some two decades ago for the present context. Then, I turn to the unfolding political life of COVID. Horrific reports have emerged from around the world of state manoeuvres in the guise of epidemic control. Clearly, manoeuvring suggests tricky operations that blur sound health sciences with biopolitical contrives. In many places, the macabre map of mortality drawn by COVID mirrors the map of structural inequities, where minorities account for a significantly greater share of deaths. In many ways, then, COVID represents the latest realization of what Laurent Berlant has called “slow death”. Copyright © 2021 IACSS.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2021
EventInter-Asia Cultural Studies Society Virtual Conference - National University of Singapore, Singapore
Duration: 28 Jul 202130 Jul 2021


ConferenceInter-Asia Cultural Studies Society Virtual Conference
Internet address


Erni, J. (2021, July). Weaponizing COVID-19: A cultural chronicle. Paper presented at Inter-Asia Cultural Studies Society Virtual Conference, National University of Singapore, Singapore.


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