What Makes Life Grievable? Discursive Distribution of Vulnerability in the Pandemic

  • Zuzana Maďarová Faculty of Social and Economic Sciences, Comenius University, Slovakia, zuzana.madarova@fses.uniba.sk
  • Pavol Hardoš Faculty of Social and Economic Sciences, Comenius University, Slovakia, pavol.hardos@fses.uniba.sk http://orcid.org/0000-0003-4722-7037
  • Alexandra Ostertágová Feminist organisation ASPEKT, Bratislava, Slovakia, ostertagova@aspekt.sk
Keywords: COVID-19, vulnerability, precarity, grievability, pandemic politics

Abstract

This article examines Judith Butler’s concepts of vulnerability and grievability in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic and biopower practices introduced in the name of the protection of the people. An analysis of the elite political discourse in Czechia, Germany, Great Britain, and Slovakia in the first three months of the pandemic explores how vulnerability was constructed and distributed among the respective populations. We identified two prevailing discursive frames – science and security. Within the first, vulnerability was constructed in terms of biological characteristics, rendering elderly, disabled, and chronically ill bodies as already lost and ungrievable. Within the security frame, Roma or migrant populations’ vulnerability to the virus has been discursively shifted into being seen as a threat, while vulnerability itself was recognized more as a feature of institutions or society. Thus, despite the claims that ‘we are all in this together’, the pandemic has exposed how our vulnerability and interdependency are embedded within existing social structures.

Author Biographies

Zuzana Maďarová, Faculty of Social and Economic Sciences, Comenius University, Slovakia, zuzana.madarova@fses.uniba.sk

Zuzana Maďarová (1984) is a researcher at the Institute of European Studies and International Relations, the Faculty of Social and Economic Sciences, Comenius University in Bratislava. Her research focuses on the gender aspects of political subjectivity, feminist approaches in political sciences, gender perspectives in political communication, and the neo-conservative turn in political discourse.

Pavol Hardoš, Faculty of Social and Economic Sciences, Comenius University, Slovakia, pavol.hardos@fses.uniba.sk

Pavol Hardoš (1982) is an assistant professor at the Institute of European Studies and International Relations, the Faculty of Social and Economic Sciences, Comenius University in Bratislava. He obtained his PhD in political theory at Central European University in Budapest. With teaching commitments and interests in political philosophy, democratic theory, and theories of social science, he focuses in his research on the intersections of the epistemic aspects of politics, ideological discourse, and populism.

Alexandra Ostertágová, Feminist organisation ASPEKT, Bratislava, Slovakia, ostertagova@aspekt.sk

Alexandra Ostertágová (1987) is a fellow researcher in the non-governmental feminist organisation ASPEKT. She focuses on issues related to social justice, gender, class, racial equality, citizenship and social and education policy.