‘Evil deaths’ and the difficulty of mourning in Brazil in
the time of COVID-19
Based on the anthropological classification of death into ‘good
deaths’, ‘beautiful deaths’ and ‘evil
deaths’, and using the methodology of screen ethnography, this article
focuses on mourning in Brazil during the COVID-19 pandemic, especially the
extreme cases of deaths in Manaus and among the Yanomami people. The article
‘follows the virus’, from its first role in a death in the
country, that of a domestic worker, to hurriedly dug mass graveyards. I consider
how the treatment of bodies in the epidemiological context sheds light on the
meanings of separation by death when mourning rituals are not performed
according to prevailing cultural imperatives. Parallels are drawn with other
moments of sudden deaths and the absence of bodies, as during the South American
dictatorships, when many victims were declared ‘missing’. To
conclude, the article focuses on new funerary rituals, such as Zoom funerals and
online support groups, created to overcome the impossibility of mourning as had
been practised in the pre-pandemic world.
Research into the governance of dead bodies, primarily focused on post-conflict
contexts, has often focused on the aspects of the management of dead bodies that
involve routinisation, bureaucratisation and order. Less attention has been paid
to the governance of the dead in times of relative peace and, in particular, to
the aspects of such work that are less bureaucratised and controlled. This
article explores the governance of dead bodies in pandemic times – times
which although extraordinary, put stress on ordinary systems in ways that are
revealing of power and politics. Observations for this article come from over
fifteen years of ethnographic research at a medical examiner’s office in
Arizona, along with ten focused interviews in 2020 with medico-legal authorities
and funeral directors specifically about the COVID-19 pandemic. The author
argues that the pandemic revealed the ways in which the deathcare industry in
the United States is an unregulated, decentralised and ambiguous space.
This article sets forth a theoretical framework that first argues that
necropolitical power and sovereignty should be understood as existing on a
spectrum that ultimately produces the phenomenon of surplus
death – such as pandemic deaths or those disappeared by the state. We
then expound this framework by juxtaposing the necropolitical negligence of the
COVID-19 pandemic with the violence of forced disappearances to argue that the
surplus dead have the unique capacity to create political change and reckonings,
due to their embodied power and agency. Victims of political killings and
disappearance may not seem to have much in common with victims of disease, yet
focusing on the mistreatment of the dead in both instances reveals uncanny
patterns and similarities. We demonstrate that this overlap, which aligns in key
ways that are particularly open to use by social actors, provides an entry to
comprehend the agency of the dead to incite political reckonings with the
violence of state action and inaction.
Continuing the focus on the district of Ancoats in Manchester, de Noronha and Silver consider the ever-shifting relations between capital and state in the shaping of the housing geographies of the neighbourhood. They continue the historical analysis in conversation with Engels’ ideas, showing how the post-industrial decline of the district created the conditions for future regeneration and subsequent gentrification of the area, and financialisation of the housing. The chapter concludes by thinking through the connections between housing and inequality, and the importance of understanding the changing relationship between capital and the state to do so.
Governing and politicising ‘actually existing austerity’ in a post-democratic city
This chapter engages with austerity and inequality as forms of slow structural violence, which unfold through the relationship between governors and the governed on the terrain of the local state and urban social infrastructures. Drawing on research conducted in London between 2015 and 2017, the author discusses the active role of the local state in rolling out austerity urbanism in London and suggests that a depoliticising ‘common sense’ over how austerity should be – and is being – administered is legible based on three inter-locking logics: compassionate competence; demand management; and speculative urban entrepreneurialism. The author also pays close attention to growing tensions between those who seek to ‘responsibly’ govern and build consensus for the slow structural violence of budget cuts and those who ‘dissensually’ refuse to be governed in such a way, who refuse to participate in the spoiling of social infrastructure or the social cleansing of their neighbourhoods. The chapter concludes by suggesting that an important current in London’s emergent urban social movements is that they are pushing beyond calls for a simple end to imposed scarcity and a return to the pre-crisis compromise. Rather, they are articulating anti-austerity with a bottom-up critique of the local state and a deeper desire to democratise urban life.
This work explores gendered exclusion from public space. The research focus is on the lived experience of women in Manchester, UK, and data was collected via a series of walking interviews. Women discuss the impact of street harassment and everyday sexism alongside coping strategies that they develop to enable them to claim their place in the city. There are also examples of how policy decisions and poor design can entrench and amplify gendered exclusion. The chapter concludes with some examples of creative resistance to misogyny. An intersectional approach is taken, which acknowledges differences between women, and the value and importance of diversity and equality in public space is asserted throughout.
Highs and lows – breaching social and spatial boundaries
The book concludes that it has highlighted the exciting possibilities of combining work on different aspects of social life in ways that illuminate its upper reaches as much as the necessary coverage of poverty and exclusion. In taking a leaf from Riis’ work and agenda on considering how the ‘cheek by jowl’ of urban life operated, the advantages of understanding disjuncture and adjacency are illustrated clearly. Here the pathway between high and low city, from male to female gaze, migrant to ‘settled’ resident, from estate to leafy terrace, and from violent actor to victim, can be seen as a more closely connected and interconnected series of conditions and stories. One of the most obvious questions that arises from these comparisons is the question of the degree to which positive and negative outcomes and conditions might also be related – are these conditions inevitably part of some rich but unsettling social condition, or are they outcomes generated by interrelated forces and pressures in relation to each other (perhaps even by design or planning)?
This chapter draws a cross-country, city-level comparison between the cities of Brighton, UK and Bologna, Italy. Both cities have an established reputation for being ‘tolerant’ and ‘hospitable’, which stems from their image of diverse environments. However, especially at the institutional level, this public image is rarely scrutinised. In this chapter, the author digs into the urban representations of Bologna and Brighton as diverse and open places to uncover the exclusivity of inclusive spaces through minorities’/migrants’ lived experiences. The respondents on whose accounts the chapter is based are classified as ‘Black and Ethnic Minorities’ in Brighton and ‘foreigners’ in Bologna – this to reflect the political language used in each case study in relation to migration and ethnic diversity. After a discussion on their own perception of Brighton and Bologna’s sense of place the author examines how they frame discrimination and hate-crime in their city.
Focusing on the district of Ancoats in Manchester, de Noronha and Silver examine how its housing geographies and the lives of its residents have been shaped by shifting priorities and interventions of both capital and the state over the past two centuries. They outline the critical insights from Engels set out in The Housing Question. They then mobilise these ideas through thinking about the emergence of slum housing in the district and the subsequent interventions by the local state to improve these conditions through municipal housing projects.