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A Pandemic and the Politics of Life

 | Book Awards 2022 | English Non-fiction

A Pandemic and the Politics of Life

A Pandemic and the Politics of Life unravels the specifics of the Indian experience of battling COVID-19, while adopting an international perspective, in order to analyse the why and how of this public health emergency; the neoliberal response by the state; the production of an unanticipated politics of life; and the dramatic desire for a new kind of public power.

Author: Ranabir Samaddar
Publisher: Women Unlimited

Award Category: English Non-fiction
About the Book: 

A Pandemic and the Politics of Life unravels the specifics of the Indian experience of battling COVID-19, while adopting an international perspective, in order to analyse the why and how of this public health emergency; the neoliberal response by the state; the production of an unanticipated politics of life; and the dramatic desire for a new kind of public power.

Written during an intense time, this monograph closely follows the progress of the virus, focusing on three themes: (i) the outbreak as an epidemiological crisis compounded by an economic crisis, a migrant crisis, and a political crisis; (ii) the presence of the marching migrant as the figure of this crisis; and (iii) the emergence of bio-politics from below as a reaction of the lower classes.

Over twelve months into ‘fighting’ this deadly virus, we now have a remedy in the form of a vaccine—but is that all the remedy we need? The author raises and answers some critical questions around the way issues of life and death are negotiated in a neoliberal order, and on what we mean by care, protection and solidarity in a post-COVID-19 world.

A Pandemic and the Politics of Life stands out for its erudition, for its location of the crisis in the larger political economy of neoliberalism, for its rigorous, consistent, unsentimental focus on questions of equity, and for the hope it sights in what he calls bio-politics or the politics of life from below. - Harsh Mander


About the Author: 

Ranabir Samaddar is currently the Distinguished Chair in Migration and Forced Migration Studies, Calcutta Research Group. He belongs to the critical school of thinking and is considered one of the foremost theorists in the field of migration and forced migration studies. His writings on migration, forms of labour, urbanisation, and political struggles have signalled a new turn in post-colonial thinking. Among his influential works is The Marginal Nation: Transborder Migration from Bangladesh to West Bengal (1999). His recent works are Karl Marx and the Postcolonial Age (2018) and The Postcolonial Age of Migration (2020).


Excerpt: 

The public health crisis has only deepened the economic crisis. Incomes of wage-earning groups dropped, public spending on social services declined, and from all accounts, corporate sector earnings went up. In India, too, we saw Covid-19 responses of the government in the form of organised bailouts for big business far in excess of relief efforts for vulnerable sections of the population – migrant workers, the elderly, slum populations, and out-of-work labouring groups.

There were no strings attached to the relief to business, while that offered to states, small- and medium-scale enterprises, and others were yoked to the loan market. The virus looked suspiciously like a neoliberal virus, echoing Samir Amin’s prophetic words. The crisis thus turned out to be unprecedented in scale, impacting production (along with the reproduction of labouring lives) and conjoining structural inequalities, cyclical instabilities, and an unprecedented disruption of life.

The moment was, and remains, one of a public health emergency in the context of massive political-economic disorder. The issue thus is one of life itself. Perhaps the life question has never been articulated in the post-war era in such an acute sense as it has now.


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