This contribution belongs to a series of student blogs written as part of a seminar offered by EHC staff as part of our Research Master’s Environmental Humanities specialization. This year, this seminar was devoted to the Corona pandemic.
Eurobonds in the Italian political discourse
Leonardo Grotti, RMA Forensic Linguistics (VU)
On April 9, the European Commission tasked with managing the funds to face the COVID-19 emergency has denied the possibility of creating Eurobonds to face the crisis. From that moment on, the term Eurobond has occupied a central role in the Italian political discourse. More specifically, nationalist parties and movements have used the Eurobond request rejection to depict Europe as an economic dictatorship whose financial interests prevail over the needs of Member States. However, during the last ten years, Italian nationalist parties have fiercely opposed the creation of Eurobonds, as Government bonds were depicted as the last symbol of state sovereignty, which Europe was trying to take away.
The change in the connotations of the word Eurobond and the political discourse surrounding it in the current situation demonstrates the core principle that environmental phenomena greatly influence our political landscape and, more generally, human ideas (Neimanis, 2015).
I was genuinely struck by the change of political agenda that some parties operated over the last period. However, by looking at viruses as environmental issues, and considering Neimanis’s (2015) warnings against depoliticization of such phenomena, it was clearer why an ecological perspective could help understand this event better.
First, the COVID-19 has been strongly described as a non-political problem. Subsequently, each virus-related narrative was perceived and accepted as external to the political discourse. This view is problematic since, as shown by the Eurobond example, some of these narratives carry a strong political bias, which is hidden by the false premise of non-political nature.
Now, consider the ecophilosophical approach suggested by Bennett (2010); from this perspective, the European political scene becomes an ecological system composed of different, interrelated parts. Here, humans are the more prominent agency; however, they are just one of the multiple publics. In such a context, a virus is both an actant and a problem; consequently, its movements affect the human agency, which reacts to it politically. As such, COVID-19’s acts are not only inherently political, in Dewey’s terms, but also trigger a political response on the level of human, political narratives. This view fits the idea of a more horizontal view of our environments while also helping to deal with the issue of depoliticization.
- Bennett, Jane, 1957-. Vibrant Matter : a Political Ecology of Things. Durham :Duke University Press, 2010.
- Neimanis, Astrida, Åsberg, Cecilia, Hedrén , Johan, “Four Problems, Four Directions for Environmental Humanities. Toward Critical Posthumanities for the Anthropocene”, Ethics & The Environment, 20:1 (2015), 68-97.
Practices of discarding
Sadie Hale, RMA Literature & Contested Spaces (VU)
COVID-19 has led to a loss of income for many people, including me. I therefore decided to move into cheaper student accommodation to save money. The housing market in Amsterdam—usually punitively competitive—has cracked open, and finding a room was easy amidst the mass exodus of foreign students. Correspondingly, there has been a noticeable rise in the number of unwanted belongings on the side of roads as people flee at short notice or remain stuck inside, allowing them to take stock of surplus items and shed them like a skin. Fly-tipping, the illegal dumping of waste in non-designated areas, has also sharply risen in the UK (ITV News, 2020).
I had long noticed in Amsterdam, with some amusement, that on Sundays all sorts of furniture would materialise by the rubbish disposal units on the streets. This has continued under lockdown, the difference being that the streets seem to be refilled on an almost daily basis: everyone is having a clear-out. Going for my daily cycle, I make sure to take a detour to scavenge for goodies for my sparse new bedroom. I feel like one of the “gleaners” in Agnès Varda’s 2000 documentary—people who make a living (and a life) out of items that society has given up on, from household appliances to misshapen potatoes.
However, these items are more than just the casualties of people’s spring clean. Celia Lowe’s (2014) eponymous reflections on the term “infection” prove instructive for thinking about what Alex Zahara (2020) calls the specific “practices of discarding” which are emerging during the pandemic. Infused with their owners’ fears of infection, the objects themselves appear contaminated: “AFVAL CORONA”, reads the big red lettering spray-painted onto a discarded mattress. This is not a description; it is a warning. It seems, then, that the virus has “breach[ed] the boundaries” (Lowe, 301) on multiple fronts, filtering into people’s bodies, their psychological states, and their homes. Dragging an office chair upstairs, I wonder if I am being irresponsible. But risk and fear are at least partly subjective—and they do not stop me.
ITV News. “Coronavirus Lockdown Sees Huge Rise In Fly-Tipping Across UK”. ITV News, 2020, https://www.itv.com/news/2020-04-14/coronavirus-lockdown-sees-huge-rise-in-fly-tipping-across-uk/. Accessed 14 Apr 2020.
Lowe, Celia. “Infection: Living Lexicon for the Environmental Humanities.” Environmental Humanities, vol. 5, 2014, pp. 301-305.
Varda, Agnès. Les Glaneurs Et La Glaneuse (The Gleaners And I). Cine-Tamaris, 2000.
Zahara, Alex. “A Bibliography of Trash Animals”. Discard Studies, 2020, https://discardstudies.com/2020/02/17/a-bibliography-of-trash-animals/. Accessed 14 Apr 2020.