Immunitarianism: defence and sacrifice in the politics of Covid-19

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As witnessed over the last year, immunity emerged as one of most highly debated topics in the current Covid-19 pandemic. Countries around the globe have been debating whether herd immunity or lockdown is the best response, as the race continues for the development and rollout of effective vaccines against coronavirus and as the economic costs of implementing strict containment measures are weighed against public health costs. What became evident all the more is that immunity is precisely what bridges between biological life and political life in the current climate, be it in terms of the contentious notion of herd immunity, the geopolitical struggle for vaccines, or the possible emergence of “Covid-elite”, i.e. holders of so-called “immunity passports”. Immunity, as such, is certainly not only a matter of science and biology alone, but is inherently political in the way that pandemics themselves are often highly politicised. Drawing on the work of Roberto Esposito and other literature from the field of biopolitics and immunology, this paper provides a critical examination of the concept of immunity in light of the recent events, highlighting the intersections between the politics of defence and the politics of sacrifice which animate governments’ immunitary responses to the Covid-19 pandemic. The paper ends with a discussion on the forms of solidarity and local initiatives that have been mobilised during the current pandemic and their potential for an affirmative form of biopolitics. Overall, the main aim of this paper is to provide a critical cultural and philosophical analysis of Covid-19 debates and responses, and a nuanced account on the biopolitical effects of the current pandemic, highlighting the paradoxical nature of immunity which straddles at once negative practices of defence and sacrifice as well as affirmative forms of community and solidarity beyond state apparatuses.
Original languageEnglish
Article number25
Pages (from-to)1-31
JournalHistory and Philosophy of the Life Sciences
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 22 Feb 2021


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