bronac ferran on Fri, 21 Jan 2022 14:36:07 +0100 (CET)

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Re: <nettime> CfP: Critical reflections on pandemic politics: left-wing, feminist and anti-racist critiques

can't help wondering who the 'Alan' is to whom your email is addressed 

seems a perfect subliminal reflex (I won't say knee jerk response) ...

as ever


On Fri, 21 Jan 2022 at 13:26, Ted Byfield <> wrote:
Alan, your question seems right on. I think there's an answer — it's just not very satisfying.

It's standard fare (with good reason) to note that the maldistribution of global healthcare, from R&D through everyday practices, benefits the global north at the expense of the global south. This criticism has been especially prominent in a few areas like HIV/AIDS and (not coincidentally) vaccine research. As you and everyone else who will read this almost certainly know, quite a bit of pharma research is conducted in less-developed countries (i.e., *on people in LDCs*), but when it comes time to make the resulting products available, the debate mysteriously shifts — to the need to amortize R&D costs, corporate rights to profit, etc, etc. So there are valid arguments to be made about colonialism (and therefore imperialism) in the context of pharma.

The problem comes when those decades-old, generic arguments are applied in new contexts. Admittedly, 'new' has a pretty woolly meaning here, but you kinda now it when you see it. For example, ebola may be ancient, but the threat it poses in the context of globalization — largely thanks to aviation — are new. No one in their right mind would argue that ebola should have been deliberately transported to the EU or US so we could make sure that candidate vaccines are tested 'equitably.' The risks outside of narrow confines of testing are too extreme, so candidates were mainly tested in situ — and, crucially, *the vaccines were deployed in situ*. (I'll ignore the fact that OF COURSE there are samples of it and other pathogens in 'secure' facilities, often quasi-military.)

SARS-CoV-2 moved too quickly to be isolated 'like' ebola, so the challenge it presented was genuinely global — and the same is true for the vaccine research, in part because national regulatory structures around the world adapted quickly. Upshot: candidate vaccines were tested much more widely than usual, in LDCs as well as WEIRD countries, and anywhere else that worked. And yet the global south, which has played a decisively important role in helping everyone to understand SARS-CoV-2, has gotten screwed in a familiar range of ways (not just access). So, again, there are valid grounds to talk about colonialism (and therefore imperialism) in the context of Covid-related pharma.

But, as you note, the moment someone starts to talk about "provax" imperialism, everything turns upside-down and backwards. I think I get the general argument (not yours), that the West's overall pro-vaccine stance is part and parcel of a larger ideological front — a double bind that both valorizes vaccinations then denies access to them — and that that morally untenable position is continuous with 'imperialism.' But, as you suggest, the more pressing issue — as measured by populations sickened or dying from Covid. That's a lot more compelling than some vast schematic criticism untethered from any practical solution, like better access to vaccines and healthcare.


On 20 Jan 2022, at 12:30, Ana Teixeira Pinto wrote:

> What is "pro-vax imperialism"? To what concrete, real, policy does this
> term apply? It seems to suggest that vaccines are being foisted on the
> global south when the actual problem is hoarding...
> On Thu, Jan 20, 2022 at 6:06 PM Ted Byfield <> wrote:
>> This kind of 'concern trolling'–esque appropriation of leftish discourse
>> in the service of rightish agendas is becoming pervasive in the US at least
>> — and elsewhere, I'm sure, albeit with less detail.
>> As with most of these discursive tendencies it's first and foremost
>> impersonal, which can make it hard to counter without opening oneself up to
>> charges of relying on ad hominem. I think that helps to account for its
>> rise as a rhetorical strategy: it 'works' mainly because it lays basis for
>> a scripted form of pseudo-argument — pious platitudes about science,
>> openness, debate, democracy, whatever. But, as I think you suggest,
>> Florian, it would be a serious mistake to see it as merely rhetorical: it
>> has concrete consequences.
>> It might be useful to think of this turn in terms of rightist
>> 'culture-jamming,' 'overidentification,' and related ideas.
>> Cheers,
>> Ted
>> On 20 Jan 2022, at 7:00, Florian Cramer wrote:
>>>> - Government propaganda and censorship around lockdown and vaccination
>>> [...]
>>>> - The role of mass and social media in anti- or pro-lockdown or vaccine
>>>> propaganda, political polarization and forms of media virality (eg. via
>>>> covid-19 memes)
>>> [...]
>>>> - Mandatory vaccine rollouts as assaults to the feminist appeal to
>> bodily
>>>> autonomy
>>> [...]
>>>> - Ethical considerations regarding mass experimentation, moral shaming
>> and
>>>> lateral citizen surveillance
>>> [...]
>>>> - Teleological and theological narratives of science as salvation (eg.
>> via
>>>> vaccinations)
>>> All beautiful examples of a "Querfront" discourse where extreme right
>>> positions are packaged  in left-wing rhetoric. Not a single point,
>> however,
>>> on minorities and vulnerable people and communities endangered by
>>> anti-vaccer egoism, and neo-Darwinist politics - for example in the UK,
>>> Sweden and the Netherlands, of "herd immunity" through survival of the
>>> fittest.
>>> You should invite Dutch experts Willem Engel and Thierry Baudet as
>> keynote
>>> speakers.
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