For Work / Against Work
Debates on the centrality of work

"Virus interruptus: An Arendtian exploration of political world-building in pandemic times"

by Gardiner, Rita A; Fulfer, Katy (2020)


Building upon a series of blog posts and conversations, two feminist scholars explore how political community, trust, responsibility and solidarity are affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. We explore the ways in which we can engage in political world-building during pandemic times through the work of Hannah Arendt. Following Arendt’s notion of the world as the space for human togetherness, we ask: how can we respond to COVID-19’s interruptions to the familiarity of daily life and our relationship to public space? By extending relational accounts of public health and organizational ethics, we critique a narrow view of solidarity that focuses on individual compliance with public health directives. Instead, we argue that solidarity involves addressing structural inequities, both within public health and our wider community. Finally, we suggest possibilities for political world-building by considering how new forms of human togetherness might emerge as we forge a collective ‘new normal’

Key Passage

Addressing structural injustices will require organizational change. Bloom (2019) asks how can we create the conditions for organizational politics to flourish. That is, how can we envisage new ways of organizing that offer space for diverse ways of being in the world? An Arendtian way of thinking about organizational action, he states, is not concerned with ‘a logic of means and ends but rather revel in the joy of simply acting to create the potential for something new to exist’ . As you mentioned earlier, questions about world-building presume a community already exists, when for many it does not, at least not in the robust way Arendt views world-building as central to politics. The problem for political world-building is that structural injustices work to exclude some people, such as our elders or front-line workers, from mattering. On her account, political community emerges through our acting and speaking together  Along these lines, solidarity establishes a community. Our everyday social interactions may be fleeting and may disappear as soon as the business of ‘normal’ life resumes. Yet, it seems as if some people have found time for reflection during the pandemic; such reflection may have awoken a realization that, for humanity to flourish, everyone needs rights to have a home, have meaningful and safe work, and to have enough food to sustain them. The argument we have begun here could be extended in future work to consider solidarity in pandemic times alongside Arendt’s (1951) conception of ‘the right to have rights’. Arendt uses this term to expose a contradiction in the way human rights are applied to stateless people; what has emerged during the pandemic is the need to reconsider how individual rights (and which individuals’ rights) are undermined or ignored as a result of structural injustice in the workplace, and elsewhere. (p.159)


Gender, Pandemic, Covid-19, Public Health, Public Space, Essential Workers


On Arendt

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