Health and recognition—What we learn from COVID-19?
“Health is created and lived by people within the settings of their everyday life; where they learn, work, play and love. Health is created by caring for oneself and others, by being able to take decisions and have control over one’s life circumstances, and by ensuring that the society one lives in creates conditions that allow the attainment of health by all its members. Caring, holism and ecology are essential issues in developing strategies for health promotion.” (Ottawa Charte 1986)
“We are protected not so much by our own skin, but by what is beyond it. The boundaries between our bodies begin to dissolve here… Immunity… is a common trust as much as it is a private account.”
– Eula Biss in On Immunity: An Inoculation
Decolonising Recognition opens a new chapter to explore the lessons we might learn from COVID-19: how recognition, misrecognition and the spaces ‘in-between’ play a role in the pandemic’s origin, spread and, hopefully, cure.
Exploring COVID-19 through the lenses of recognition, here is a list of themes (in no particular order) that could be addressed:
- Recognition of new skills developed during the pandemic—I learned how to work from home, I learned to cook sourdough bread …
- Recognition of “critical workers” and solidarity—thank you, for being there for us! Thanks for the vaccines!
- Recognition of others as part of humanity transgressing national and other borders —I’ll wear a mask, I’ll get vaccinated to protect you (as much as myself)
- Recognition of Earth with all its fellow organic and inorganic inhabitants—I’ll represent those with no advocacy power
- Recognition of potentials and weakness of digital belonging, closeness and virtual distance – I’ll be with you, even if you are 1000 miles away, 100 zoom-boxes and 10 colonial walls between us – zooming in/out/up and down … ?
Building on Axel Honneth (The Struggle for Recognition) one could say that what is at stake with the pandemic is the struggle for recognition of our humanity, or to use the words of Walt Whitman, recognising that “Every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you.”
Recognising what we have done to respond to the pandemic would be futile if we did not address its very causes. We might have found the vaccine for COVID-19 and its latest mutations (so far) but what about the next ones? If pandemics are the new normal of the anthropocene, then one could say every virus belonging to any species as good belongs to all of us.
We are experiencing the following paradox: “social distancing” is a defense mechanism against the consequences of “social closeness” with bullied wildlife, as well as virtual, distant socializing superimposes lively, embodied, tight contacts. The ever expanding increase of the human imprint on the world (in 2020, human-made mass has reached about 1.1 teratonnes, exceeding overall global biomass) is creating the conditions for increased contact with pathogens agents previously contained within untouched ecosystems.
If we know how to recognise skills, “critical workers” and ‘other’ human beings + practices (even if we don’t always do it well), how do we recognise the “critical living creatures and resources” contributing to making life on planet earth possible and, possibly, enjoyable? How can recognition help us move beyond the dichotomy of I vs the external world, humanity vs nature, First word vs Third World.