I've found myself returning to thinking about/around/within interstitial spaces of care, particularly within hospital settings, interested in how viral activity unsettles the ideas we have around space and boundaries, both biological and infrastructural. In COVID-19 pathology and response, the inbetween, the interstitial, become sites challenge and possibility. With COVID-19, we see an acknowledgment of once forgotten spaces quite obviously, with hospital atria and hallways being reconfigured into patient care spaces, makeshift morgues established in refrigerated trucks, and hospitals spilling out into neighboring streets and parks. More than ever, we see how hospitals are simultaneously bounded and unbounded--the most stable and unstable sites for care. Along this line of thought, what might thinking through hospitals as heterotopia of crisis and deviation afford?
The heterotopia is capable of juxtaposing in a single real place several spaces, several sites that are in themselves incompatible
Heterotopias are most often linked to slices in time—which is to say that they open onto what might be termed, for the sake of symmetry, heterochronies. The heterotopia begins to function at full capacity when men arrive at a sort of absolute break with their traditional time. This situation shows us that the cemetery is indeed a highly heterotopic place since, for the individual, the cemetery begins with this strange heterochrony, the loss of life, and with this quasi-eternity in which her permanent lot is dissolution and disappearance.
Heterotopias always presuppose a system of opening and closing that both isolates them and makes them penetrable. In general, the heterotopic site is not freely accessible like a public place. Either the entry is compulsory, as in the case of entering a barracks or a prison, or else the individual has to submit to rites and purifications.
When the first lockdown orders were passed in India and stay-at-home orders in California, many in my family dispersed across nations felt containment for the first time. An old couple had arrived to the US in December last year and could not leave now. I had planned to spend summer in Delhi with my family but that is not going to happen. It is too risky to be mobile. At the same time, our lives under lockdown are dependent on people being productive, at home or beyond. When I think about theorizing place and COVID19, I must take containment seriously. The moment reveals the inadequacy of concepts as containers, making the discursive gaps apparent (Fortun 2012) but leaving us flailing about as we meet each other, fingers-crossed.
The clearest inadequacy is methodological nationalism (Wimmer & Schiller 2002): even as lockdowns have visibly occured across national borders, the transmission of virus through arteries of transnational industrial capitalism (some of it late, some not) and the privilege of transnational mobility point that as long as these infrastructures remain in place, so will this virus and more such to come. We continue to order things online, and Amazon continues to maintain these infrastructures. Public spaces are gradually opening with questionable safety norms in place. India, like other countries, is rescuing its citizens and bringing them back home, even as it continues to let migrant workers starve.
There is consensus that things will not be as before, even as transnational mobilities continue to function. With enough PPE, fingers-crossed, everyone will be fine. What does it mean to take containment seriously, at a time when we are opening up? As things will continue to be normalized to our collective surprise and fatigue, this moment should mobilize us to think about different ways of organizing and care. These do not have to be new ways of thinking and doing but those that have blossomed in our lands for some time.
In my annotation, I offer brief summaries of articles that animate my thinking about theorizing from confinement and that offer ways of doing already present:
By Desperate Measures Relieved?: Public Health, Prisons, and the Politics of Life: Jason Ludwing writes about how notions of accelerating vaccine development for COVID19 through human "challenge trials" reminds him of medical experiments on incarcerated people in the US. Challenge trials depend on a volunteering body to take on the infection, but for people in prisons, the line blurs between a consenting body that volunteers and a coerced body that is sacrificed. He points to the prison-university complex in collaboration between University of Maryland and Maryland Corrections in typhoid experiments based at Prison Volunteer Research Unit (PVRU) which launched many publications and research careers. The researchers frame those as ethical experiments because the male inmates received better accomodation and pay. Even though incarcerated populations will not be experimented upon during COVID, prison factories have remained open for producing PPE. Ludwig reminds us that this is not because of the moment, but an inevitable consequence of a system that deprives people of their bodies.
More reading: Care not Cages! #COVID19DecarcerateSyllabus