Henrique Parra & Ricardo Teixeira, amplifying the debate: The role of scientists and social scientists in times of uncertainty (Episode in Portugese with English Transcription)
[ Notice: This episode is in Portuguese. As a way of letting the interviewees express themselves fully and also to amplify the access to Brazilians, this session was recorded in the interviewee’s native language. Thus, Andrea Rozenbaum, a Brazilian anthropologist, is also joining us in this episode as a co-host. A transcript of the episode in English can be found in the podcast’s website. ]
EN Henrique Parra & Ricardo Teixeira, amplifying the debate: The role of scientists and social scientists in times of uncertainty (Part 2 of 2)
In this session, we continue the conversation we started in the previous episode with Ricardo Teixeira and Henrique Parra. Ricardo is a sanitary doctor, specialized in collective health, and professor at the São Paulo University (USP) in the preventive medicine department, where he develops research focusing on health communication. Henrique is a sociologist and a social sciences professor at UNIFESP, where he coordinates a technology, politics and knowledge lab called Pimenta Lab.
In this episode, we deepened our conversation, questioning the sense of responsibility and the feeling of impotence when facing a reality in which it seems hard to glimpse a positive future.
Ricardo resumed the idea of social medicine, viewing it as a social science. He highlighted the significance of taking economic, social and political measures at this point.
Contrasting the neoliberal model, in which the individual is encouraged to care for his health autonomously in several instances, the interviewees highlighted the vulnerability the pandemic brought. They debated how this makes us realize how interdependent we are, and how we need the collective, the bonds, and the affections to live.
We debated about how social scientists could act within the current circumstances, highlighting a transdisciplinary view of life in society. They reiterated the importance of allying the health and the humanities field.
We concluded this conversation by reflecting on the future, the environmental implications, and possible transformations in the perception over the individual and the collective. Finally, we talked about what we could not only learn but put into action from everything we are experiencing.
PT Henrique Parra & Ricardo Teixeira, ampliando o debate: O papel de cientistas e cientistas sociais em tempos de incerteza
Este episódio é uma continuação da conversa que iniciamos com o Ricardo Teixeira e o Henrique Parra na última gravação do podcast. O Ricardo é médico sanitarista, especializado em saúde coletiva, professor na faculdade de medicina da USP, onde desenvolve pesquisas com enfoque em comunicação em saúde. Henrique é sociólogo e professor na UNIFESP, onde coordena o Pimenta Lab, um laboratório de tecnologia, política e conhecimento.
Neste episódio tocamos em questões mais profundas, questionando a sensação de responsabilidade e o sentimento de impotência diante de uma realidade em que vislumbrar um futuro positivo parece tão difícil.
Ricardo retomou a ideia da medicina social, tratada como uma ciência social, indicando a importância de se tomar medidas de impacto econômicas, sociais e políticas.
Contrapondo o modelo neoliberal em que o individuo age por si e é incentivado em diversas instancias a cuidar autonomamente de sua saúde, os entrevistados abordam a importância de nos atentarmos à vulnerabilidade ressaltada pela pandemia. Isso nos faz perceber como somos interdependentes e precisamos do coletivo, dos vínculos e dos afetos para viver.
Conversamos sobre como cientistas sociais podem agir nas circunstâncias atuais, destacando uma visão transdisciplinar sobre a vida em sociedade, e reiterando a importância de uma aliança entre os campos da saúde e das humanidades.
Terminamos este episódio refletindo sobre o futuro, as implicações ambientais, possíveis mudanças de percepção sobre o individuo e o coletivo, e o que podemos não somente aprender, mas também colocar em prática a partir de tudo o que estamos vivendo.
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Transcript of the episode with Ricardo Teixeira and Henrique Parra (#2)
Corina – Hi friends. Today’s episode is in Portuguese. We have been thinking for a while to give the opportunity to the scholars that we have here on the podcast to speak to their work in the language of their choice. For those of our listeners that are interested in the content of the episode, but cannot follow in Portuguese, we are providing a transcript in English. For the rest, who are comfortable following in Portuguese, this is an episode that I will be co-hosting together with my friend and fellow anthropologist Andrea. We hope you enjoy it.
Andy – Hi, I am Andy, I am Brazilian, graduated in Media Studies, and I am also an anthropologist. I worked for more than 10 years with ethnographic research and strategic planning in Brazil, and recently I followed a Cultural and Social Anthropology Master in the Netherlands. In a few months, I will start a PhD in Cultural Sociology to extend a bit more my academic life.
Today I’m here with Corina to talk with Henrique Parra and Ricardo Teixeira about how we are living up to this new reality brought by the pandemic.
This is the continuation of a conversation that started in a previous episode, that you can check here in the podcast’s page. The discussion went beyond the rational field, focusing on affective aspects and touching upon the sense of responsibility. We talked about the role of medical and social sciences and how they can be intertwined. We also discussed future implications that we can anticipate; reflecting on the current neoliberal discourse, the intensification of the climate emergency, the human interdependency, and on the significance of bonding.
Corina was the one who led this conversation, so from now on, I’ll give her the floor.
Corina – Ricardo, in this current moment with the pandemic and the complex and interdependent processes, how do you position your own agency, or your own affect over the system? And how do you feel about it? I was thinking that you have significant systemic knowledge about what is happening in Brazil, and I believe that with such knowledge, a kind of impotence might arise. When we observe all these changes and interdependencies and, somehow, systems that don’t change, but, in fact, consolidate and strengthen themselves, especially regarding the topic of power; how do you, as someone who has all this knowledge about what is going on, feel as a person, in your own body and with your own agency of contributing to your country, to the world, and to your ecosystem?
Ricardo – This is an excellent, profound and destabilizing question. Especially because of my professional and personal trajectory, which I’ve been emphasizing; in the past 30 years of the Brazilian history, I had a profound optimism regarding all directions, despite them being slow, and despite the resistances we always face. I am part of a generation who graduates from university when the country is leaving the military dictatorship and moving towards democracy. So, it is a time of a lot of enthusiasm. I ended up directing my professional life based on a collective cheer of: ‘let’s build the health care universal system (SUS) in Brazil’. In a place where it would be most unlikely for it to happen, it did. If not by a high dosage of the craziness of the actors who didn’t evaluate how impossible it was, but even so they did it and made it possible. In fact, in 30 years, precariously, scrapped, under-financed, we managed to extend the system of social protection, and of life defence.
Many characteristics are not worth getting into detail. But, also, we cannot follow a simplistic and more distant, panoramic view of comparing the SUS to the NHS in England, or to European public systems. We have singularities in our system in terms of technological inventions, and how the health problem in the SUS is understood, which are quite interesting, and very rich. Some of them have gained international notoriety, such as the primary care, the area in which I work; or the family health strategy, which became a model even for the organization of primary care in the world today. They deserve the researchers’ attention.
Well, now trying to get to your question, of how this pandemic touches me more personally… Well, on the one hand, my agency, the way I saw myself contributing to this process, and it mixes almost a little biographically with my life course. First, through embracing this great collective project that was the construction of the SUS. I spent a long time working in the service, and for a few years as a researcher and professor at the university. It is from this place of contribution as a researcher, but also as someone who used to practice and also managed the health system, who I see myself participating in this construction a little. As I had mentioned, I have a history that for many decades was of intense enthusiasm, which despite the resistance and difficulties, the slow pace of the advance of specific dimensions, I always kept that optimism of advancing.
In a previous question posed by Andy, I already talked about my unease at that moment. We are living in a situation in which, being a person with my background, it summons me on an emergency aspect. So, I even lessen a series of criticisms that I have to a set of dimensions of the technologies of response to the epidemic because there is a bigger question that, even if it is due to my professional formation, I cannot keep apart. I mean, there is a time when you say, “stop everything and let’s move on because there is a fire that you have to put out”. From that point of view, I find myself, in fact, affectionate in a very dismaying moment. It is a quite rapid evolution in these affections, because in March, or until mid-April, I found myself in a state, a kind of sanitary furore of wanting quite urgently to produce an answer that we know we had no time for. That is why I think that at the moment I find myself, of course, with many oscillations, without surrendering to defeatism because I believe there is always something to do, but I still see the moment with a lot of pessimism. Perhaps, I think the word I used earlier defines it better: particular dismay, a feeling that there is an essential part of this war that we have already lost. We will continue in the other battles, but I think it is a quite sad moment. I’m here using a lot of reasoning at the moment, trying to structure my answers, so as not to succumb to the sadness that this moment causes us. It is, inevitably, a sense of defeat.
The Brazilian public health care has a quite curious history. It is not well known, but it dates from the beginning of the 20th century. I find it very sad to be part of a generation that has experienced one of the most failed responses to a public health problem in its entire history. Brazil produced a model response to the last great epidemic that we experienced, which was AIDS/HIV. I was in college when I saw the first case of AIDS in Brazil. I participated in the construction of the SUS, on this movement by which we put a responding policy on to HIV/AIDS, that was a worldwide model.
At that moment we have another epidemic, and our response is perhaps the worst on the planet. It’s sad, right, Corina? It is difficult for us to live in this situation. As much as we know that there is, as you said, impotence given the political situation that we are experiencing in the country, which is not new. We have been here for half a decade, half a decade in the process of dismantling the country. Taking the coup as a landmark, it is good to remember that it happened half a decade ago. I think it wasn’t a very encouraging response, right? You poked, you asked me to speak.
Corina – No, your answer was quite profound, and I think that in some moments a little bit of silence even helps people to feel what your answer does to them, right?
Ricardo – I am deeply unaccustomed to this. Even in my professional environment. I have a reputation for being quite optimistic and, in general, of disseminating such enthusiasm. I think that maybe, for the first time, I am living a moment in which I am having a hard time supporting such a position. But, perhaps, it is because we are really immersed in a quite serious problem, and we are entering into the worst weeks. I do not believe that, in the midterm, I will lose such characteristic of continuing to believe in life and in the production of a way of life that defends it, values it, and that potentializes it.
Corina – What does that feeling, and that moment do to your sense of responsibility? It is a question that may not be well structured. Still, I also think that there is a connection between this feeling of helplessness, of seeing how things are going to happen and being able to influence them, with feeling responsible for what is going to happen. It is a kind of internal responsibility. Maybe that responsibility is not given, but it is internalized. Does my question make sense?
Ricardo – Yes, I’ll be very quick, and maybe open a hook for another piece. The topic is of sanitary health, so the doctor ends up dominating, and I think there is a richness in this debate that is the entry of social scientists. The Brazilian collective health, which is how we call it here in Brazil, the field to which I am linked, is not a casual term. Together with the SUS, Brazil also built a transdisciplinary field called collective health, which is again Brazilian originality. Perhaps, in this case, Latin American originality because this concept is also identified in other countries of Latin America. But it wants to make a difference concerning traditional and hegemonic public health care in the world. It is a very biological public health care, marked by the biomedical paradigm. Even the public health care carrying for diseases, it has such mark of the biomedicine in its constitution.
The Brazilian public health is a transdisciplinary field that is strictly related to a tradition that dates from the 19th century in Europe, which is social medicine. I am touching up on that because I internalize this responsibility. Of course, as I said, the moment and emergency call for a recrudescence on the sanitary side among everyone in the area. One which wants to produce quick and immediate responses. But this tradition, which comes from the European traditional social medicine, is a conception related to the problem that was at the origin of modern scientific medicine birth. In a way, it was a defeated paradigm. Because social medicine and the authors who expressed such view treated medicine as a social science. They said that politics is nothing more than medicine on a large scale. I have no doubt that today in Brazil, perhaps, the primary public health measure that we should take is to overthrow President Bolsonaro.
In the same way, also corroborating with what Henrique said, I have no doubt that the measures that could cause more medical health impacts at this moment are economical and social. Such as basic income and income redistribution. Do you follow? Right now, I internalize this responsibility, in fact, making the biomedical side – concerned with producing quick and urgent responses – coexist with this other side that has always accompanied me. Which is to understand that this responsibility in my place of work, considering my social mandate, and the areas I occupy through political action and understanding that we are in a field. This is where I would like to implicate you a little more into this conversation. I am talking about a tradition that says that medicine is a social science. I’m referring to the phrase of someone who was disputing the birth of modern scientific medicine, back in 1848, about what health practices actually were. And of course, everyone knows it. The paradigm that won is the organicist, the biological paradigm, which will reduce the disease problem to an identified injury in the individual body. When there is a much greater potential and action than all the sums of actions of individual biological medicine; in this medicine that is placed as a social science in policy. I mean, if you think that the main tool for a large-scale intervention is a policy. So, more than ever, I internalize the responsibility from the perspective of the political actor role that I am now, more than ever.
Corina – Is this kind of change to the social and the collective and social responsibilities the way out of the impotence of individual action?
Henrique – I think it’s one of the ways, Corina. Perhaps, this situation that we start to live in an epidemic puts us in front of a possible experience, which is, on the one hand, the condition of social isolation. It can accentuate an idea that I, as an individual, will be able to care autonomously and sovereignly for my health risks. Departing from the idea of a body considered as immune to these relations with the other, this experience is placed as a possibility. And, in a particular discourse, to an isolation practice. In contrast to this, it is interesting to look at a set of experiences that place this situation of social isolation also as a possibility for us to perceive ourselves as interdependent. As an element that could politicize in a more critical and emancipatory way the experience of vulnerability.
Of course, the risky situation with mobility is very unevenly distributed, especially in Brazilian society. However, the experience that there is a common risk not only opens but also activates our perception of being interdependent subjects. So, from the perspective of a social experience, what is posed as a possibility for us to politicize and strengthen the idea of collective health and the concept of society, it is needed that we perceive the different elements that constitute us, and that is naturally present in our daily life. They are the elements that support our most ordinary life. So, when we become aware of diverse alliances from the different cooperation networks on which we are dependent on to exist, this opens up the possibility of politicizing this condition of vulnerability.
I also like to look at this experience in what it can activate the production of this interdependent subject, for example, in contrast to our president’s speech. I think we are facing a conflict over the meanings of what this pandemic experience is. In a very simplistic way, on the one hand, there is a set of discourses, practices, technologies, which reinforce the sense of an individual who is sovereign, autonomous, effective, and who can perform. So, there is a whole idea that this president may not only be the main propagator of this in a quite irresponsible way but also this idea that ‘I will only have a little flu’. I mean, what idea is this, what body is this?
In contrast, life shows that we are interdependent, that we are vulnerable, and that we need a relationship with each other so that we can live. So, life takes on another shape. I think there is this dispute over the pandemic experience, and this is not a defined field. In the Brazilian situation, it is aggravated by the government officials who propose an idea that they are immune. And they are even immune to having a relationship of empathy, of solidarity with one another. So, the risk that we have is, in fact, the construction of a type of individual that will totally implode what we have as the element in the origination of our society, of bonds, of affections.
Corina – I would like to know your advice to people who work in social sciences so that they can get involved more actively in this issue. What they could do in practice and how to balance this action with academic commitments?
Henrique – So, Corina, I think that social scientists at the moment are actually being called upon to produce not only practices, speeches and thoughts about this situation. There are countless associations, research groups, and they are experiencing, they are really living this problem. So, I think it is fascinating to see the proliferation of newsletters, reports, publications that are occurring through social scientists. Yesterday I was trying to bring together some of these initiatives because, in fact, the epidemic and the Covid19 became a kind of common collective research agenda for different groups. So, even initiatives that at first seemed like they weren’t looking at it, the way the pandemic impacts the totality of our lives, means that several areas of knowledge research in the field of social sciences are being asked to look at this. So, the first thing is: many things are already happening. Thus, the social sciences are producing a lot of research and also subsidizing actions right now. But in terms of what I would like to see, in terms of having experience as a social scientist, and then maybe thinking about a disciplinary field and the way the social sciences in Brazil are predominantly organized, I think that the experience of the pandemic also calls us to think about some social sciences. Of course, the example that Ricardo brings is already a good example of this type of relationship between the social sciences and the health field. But how does this also apply to several other fields of our life? I would like to experience social sciences from the perspective of its shaping, the research and performance that is much more linked to, for example, the fields of technology development, of engineering, and of architecture. So, in this way, different areas of our social life would benefit a lot if social scientists were also more in dialogue with these other fields of activity.
Historically, the social sciences in Brazil have embarked on a field of academic research more towards the Censo (demographic census). Of course, there is a considerable contribution to the areas of public policies, security discussion, and health. Still, I would like to see a social science that is much closer and is also producing artefacts, architectures, forms of life, together with other areas of activity in our society. In terms of what could be a reflection of this moment, it provokes us to think a social science in its relationship, for example, with the field of health. And also with the areas of the environment, and food production. Anyway, I think it is a moment at the university where we are now being asked to think about how will teaching be. Despite all the risks in place, it is a quite interesting opportunity for people to rethink our curriculum, to think about the classroom space, and about the possible teaching practices at the university. In short, I think this is it. It is this intensification of a dialogue between the social sciences and these other areas of knowledge and their application in society.
Ricardo – I have little to add to what Henrique brought, but maybe I can refute what he put from my place, which is the health, reinforcing what I said earlier. Because, in addition to engaging with other agendas, like Henrique said, specifically speaking about health, there is also an issue that goes through a paradigm dispute as I had mentioned it before. It is not only the idea of the social sciences’ presence, of the human sciences in general, including the health field; it is not merely the most intense entry of a particular or specialized perspective, but a dispute of understanding, for example, the health and disease phenomenon. This dispute is not new, but I think that the specializations and feudalizations of disciplinary fields have created a quite corporate environment concerning disputes in these areas. A perspective is lost in a dimension which is not merely multi or interdisciplinary, but effectively transdisciplinary. It is about the construction of other objects, of different research paradigms, it is said that we are not that aware of just juxtaposed specialized knowledge, but it is a field of disputes on the problem.
Speaking from the medical perspective and its needs, and also considering those involved with the training of health professionals, in this case mainly doctors at the college where I work, I think that my department has at least half of its teaching staff who are not doctors. We have anthropologists, historians, journalists. In the sense of pursuing a project of expanding training in the humanities field. I’m talking about social sciences, anthropology, history, philosophy, art, literature, which are training fields capable of providing knowledge of another reasoning and sensitivity for future doctors, future health workers, but also in the reconstruction of the paradigms on which health research is based. So, I wanted to endorse everything that Henrique said, bringing almost this testimony here from the health care position. Revealing not only how urgent and necessary it is beyond specific contributions, but also in the context of a war of science. That being said, it is real and a battle in which I think this alliance with the humanities field is fundamental.
Corina – Regarding transdisciplinary, even though being an anthropologist, I find myself attracted to the art of philosophy, and I connect a lot with your point of view that refers to the sciences coming together to build new things. In my own area of anthropology, there are ways of thinking about what is real, which are limited by the concepts we use. A question that I wanted to ask you both is more about phenomenology and how you can feel more what is happening.
Henrique – I’m here thinking, Corina, that the meaning of the pandemic experience is in dispute. Also, the perceptions about such experience, and even how a set of powerful political actors organize and structure themselves are in dispute. So, there is a set of policies, technological arrangements to talk a little bit about the topic of surveillance technologies that already existed. Now, there is not only an infiltration, and intensification of a technological arrangement, but also of a political world configuration – in terms of what are the arrangements, the actions of control, the security actions that are strengthened, adding to a perception of intensifying world experience. In terms of forms of control, types of ritualization of our existence. The question is whether the experience of the corona will be lived as a point of collective mutation or whether we will enter a process of technical-authoritarian normalization, which of course will not be the same normality anymore. Still, it will be another type of normalcy. But then, there would be a way of codifying this experience in a sense that would prevent us from experiencing it in what it brings as a question to our way of being. I think that, if some collectivities are managing to live the corona in this dimension of a mutation point, this is, perhaps, a historical moment in which people are in synchrony, which is in a molecular level. Considering then, a biological, individual, cultural, economic, technological, national, planetary level. Finally, there is a cross-section that allows an articulation in multiple scales.
This also opens up not only a perception, but a possibility of experience that makes the paradigm shift of radical existence urgent, and quite visible. It turns out – and then, a contribution to thinking of social sciences with other areas of knowledge – that this perception is not sufficient. A change of the subjective order is not enough for us to experience and set in motion other forms of life. We have a dependency on the way our routines, and our presence in the city are structured. In the face of the pandemic, what we experience very quickly is precisely this quite high degree of dependence on an infrastructures’ set that is totally unbreakable in the landscape, and which are as second nature to us. So, there is a specific expectation that in the post-epidemic, we may live differently. I am a little critical towards this idea because our degree of interdependence in socio-technical arrangements of high complexity is quite tough.
We have a social political-economic configuration that is also inscribed in steel, in concrete, and in our telecommunication networks. So, thinking about the possibilities for us to constitute other forms of life, in fact, we can create reverberation ticking boxes among the set of innovation experiences that are happening, but which are still very marginal, producing other dilemmas. I’m going back to that point because many times we have entered into a type of proposition to research for more technology, more economy, more than one kind of science solutions without realizing how this technology or economy is participating in the production of such problem. The type of experience that we might start having at that moment allows us to question what type of technology we want, what kind of economy we want, what housing we need, what way of working we want. Anyway, as I said, it is a dispute that is set to play. And in each society, it is being lived in quite different ways.
Ricardo –I have very little to add to what Henrique mentioned. Again, I will reinforce and underline some aspects that resonate a lot for me. First, I think that there is a certain primacy of practices over our conscience. I am quite sceptical about this idea that the changes that we experience will be driven by a shift in our consciousness. I think it’s much more about the practical arrangements, the repeated forms. I mean, much more to understand what is this techno-political base on which we are situated as a magnetized, vectorized, and non-neutral field that I take as a starting point for us understand how our behaviour, our conduct, our desire, our field of sensitivity, and our perceptions are constituted. I have no doubt that this is a great challenge, and I agree with Henrique that there is nothing in this experience of the pandemic that will spontaneously lead us to another place. I think that the pandemic and the deep and multidimensional crisis that it sets – in fact, omni-dimensional because it encompasses all dimensions – opens up a huge gap and a field of disputes around practices, and ways of life. From this field, other sensitivities and desires emerge. We need to dispute the area of desire. But it is a dispute that is not moral, it is not a dispute that will be made by proselytism, or by a change of conscience. But it occurs in the field of the practical structuring of our way of life.
Corina – What does it need to happen in the collective, and in society to change?
Henrique – That’s a quite interesting question, Corina. Maybe the first answer is a bad one, because, in reality, what surprises me the most is our ability to adapt to situations of extreme exclusion. Anyway, I think that as a human collective, experiencing situations of rupture and collective trauma does not mean that it will somehow generate a type of collective learning that will create a kind of social reorganization action. Just think a little about how people as a species have responded on a world scale to war conflicts, to war situations, to situations of genocide, to situations of hunger. There is no lack of catastrophe for the human species to serve as that element that would have a pedagogical or transforming potential. So, maybe this is a negative part of the answer to that question. It seems to me that catastrophes have not been sufficient for us to learn and to react collectively, somehow, transforming them. Perhaps, these modes of social transformation have been happening historically through another kind of change.
So, we may enter into a set of questions related to different approaches and theories that will address social change. How does it happen? It depends a lot on each historical, social, and cultural context. It depends a lot on the economic and technological arrangement model that we have in operation, on the communication structure, and on the structure of educational systems. There are many layers there. In our society, in the way we are living today, I tend to agree with Ricardo that any element of the transformation of new forms of life goes through a practical dimension. I mean, how do we live, eat, communicate, and take care of ourselves? At the same time, this is evidently supported by symbolic practices, in the production of thought and discourse, which also serves as sustenance for these practices.
It is incredible to think, for example, about the impact that the mobile phone has had on our social life. Sometimes I comment on that with my social science colleagues. We are thinking about social change theory to reflect on how, in a reticular way, a technological artefact will be introduced into our lives. It will produce brutal transformations in how people live. Another example of technology is contraceptive. It allows a transformation in the ways of living, in social relationships, and in sexuality. So, reflecting on how society changes, it is, in fact, a question that challenges us to think about the possible ways that people have to create new practices. At the same time, generate support and propagation strategies. I like to reflect on this process of social change based on an idea of rearticulating. That is, the way people create a form of action that generates a possibility of contamination or contagion, which is structured. To do that, it will also have to be transformed. So, how do we write this action over time, how do we create support infrastructures, how do we create a supportive relationship economy, how do we think of the intergenerational reproduction of such practice, of such organization? I believe it refers to that somehow.
Ricardo – I’m just going to mention two topics that I thought about while Henrique was talking. On one dimension, trying to make a certain circumscription of the problem, and perhaps very much to the taste of anthropology, is to focus on the theme of social bonding. In the form of the bond, in the form of the relationship with the other. I would not minimize it, although it has become so inflated, and that it often ends up being a term that defines everything and anything, which is the topic of neoliberalism. Neoliberalism is understood not only as an economic, and a fiscal prescription, or as a theory about the state, but also as a way of life. A form of life that actually organizes our relationship with the other, putting the other as a competitor. The one with which we incessantly compete. I think of this field of vectorization of social life imposed by certain governmentality – or governmental technique. And not rigorously about the economy, or the exact sciences and mathematics which we usually see with prejudice. But, rather, as a behavioural science through imposing governmentality, a strategy for governing human life, founded on the idea that we all think of ourselves as companies with human capital, seeking to accumulate human capital to assume positions of more and more advantages, where the other is seen then as a competitor, where the engine of collective life is competition. I think that should be a topic. Of course, you know that I’m echoing Foucault here, again. But I think that anthropology, as far as I know, I don’t know if it has sufficiently radicalized this thesis of asking what this paradoxical society founded on competition among its members means; and what it is to open a way of life based on cooperation. So, well, I wanted to place this problem as a kind of background. Now, to mention the second issue, I think this is a task that does not arise only now, but it has always been there. As Henrique said, it gets worse, and there is no guarantee in a post-coronavirus world. I think there isn’t a natural consequence of what we are experiencing. But on the other hand, I would not underestimate the present and the quite painful and dramatic experience that we are currently undergoing, which is the experience of social distancing.
I will give an example I saw yesterday on social media. Regarding an interview I gave, which has had a reasonable repercussion in the past days, I noticed that a person made a kind of meme, placing a phrase concerning the issue of social distancing I mentioned in the interview, to refer to the Brazilian mental health policy. This is another front that Brazil has advanced a lot with the SUS, which was the non-asylum, or anti-asylum mental health policy. It closed asylums, introducing a model of mental health care of psychosocial rehabilitation – which treats a person without isolating them. Then, this Brazilian mental health activist uses my statement related to the issue of social distancing in the Coronavirus context to say, ‘you see how therapeutic it can be for us to treat people by isolating them inside asylums?’. So, this moment flourishes series of relatively abstract issues. And that I could even agree, but without a reasonable degree of rationalization.
The current experience, as I already said a few times, is related to the subject of my master’s degree. In 1993, the context was the AIDS/HIV epidemic, and my master’s called: ‘Epidemic and culture: AIDS in a security world’. I was analyzing that in a security world, the epidemic was not portrayed as a medieval plague, but it was something else. To say that the virus remains the representation of the social bond, then we have a unique opportunity to experience interdependence sensibly – which can be a very abstract concept.
In the Covid discussion, we should also emphasize its close connection with the climate emergency. Strictly speaking, it marks our entry into the era of extreme biological phenomena. So, it is also an opportunity to change our relationship with the idea of the future. Because even though the climate emergency remains quite rationalized, that is, people who are absolute militants and reproduce a way of life, cannot get out of such lifestyle that keeps us in line with the climate catastrophe. Now, we need to dispute the narrative in which the frightening future of the climate emergency has arrived. It won’t get any worse. I mean, it could get worse, but it is already bad enough, and that was being warned. Expanding from there, but supported by people’s current sensitive experience, this narrative around the sensitive – and not the merely intellectual perception of interdependence – and that we live a communal and shared life. The illusions of neoliberalism that extremized the individualism are a great misunderstanding on which we were based, – and which produced concrete realities that are threatening us extremely. Our relationship with a future that we projected be it promising, or threatening, collapses now. We are overwhelmed at the heart of the climate emergency. Among other topics, social inequality, and the extreme levels that it currently reached.
Anyway, the tendency is to link one thought to the other. Again, the humanities, and also referring to art, they have a fundamental role at that moment as an activity that incessantly stirs our political imagination, and which makes the connections between this emerging or latent sensitivity, and makes it emerge in forms, in perceptions, in affections. The moment encourages us to act with all we have, to leave contemplation.
Henrique – I just wanted to add, Ricardo, that, in fact, the first level of intervention at our disposal is this dispute over the narrative, over the experience around the corona. In fact, being able to mark this experience as a turning point around the way we live and the issues of climate change. So, resuming what you mentioned, which I think is quite nice for us to put in terms not only as a background but also as what is structuring the experience of our society, is the discussion of the rationality and the production of subjects in a neoliberal order. The corona’s experience challenges us with this possibility of living the fraud, the fallacy of this type of existence precisely. I mean, we all see ourselves as interdependent people. And the issue of social solidarity becomes a requirement for our survival. It is at that moment that, using an expression by (Bruno) Latour, there is a sudden pause, where we are paralyzed. A set of daily practices are interrupted, and then we begin to recognize a series of devices, arrangements, practices, speeches that organize our lives, in which people are quickly asked to create other solutions. In these moments in which we are all having to develop strategies for survival involving the production of new alliances, the activation of social ties, the invention of food distribution networks, and the creation of income support networks. In brief, a set of strategies appearing, that also makes us question: ‘Well, how can we sustain in time these practices that are of the order of the common?’.
Corina, about social change, I think it goes through there. If we look at this background linked to the production of social order, of neoliberal subjects, founded on an idea of universal competition, the experience in the face of this crisis also creates another kind of experience, in which we are summoned to create a different sort of solution. This creates a possibility to invent and support the time for what we are doing now. Of course, as time goes by, having a kind of systemic dispute even between these various forms of action, organization, and rationality. But if we are able, and some initiatives touch upon this, to think about economic actions that are advantageous and also to create arrangements that are politically strengthening a certain way of life. We start to intertwine a type of relationship that can infer change. Perhaps, this is the great intelligence of neoliberal rationality, how it can inscribe various technical variations of our life, when the simple adoption of a device, many times practicality, it simultaneously contrabands economic rationality that feeds a whole set of economic actors. This is also politically useful for a specific correlation of forces. This is inscribed in an immanent way in the structure of our society. So, this type of pausing situation reveals these arrangements. This also summons and challenges us to not only create other alternatives but to support them in time.
Corina – I would like to wrap-up now. Thank you so much. The conversation was excellent. Thank you so, so, so much. My Portuguese is terrible, but I feel honoured for the time that you dedicated to us and to everyone listening to us right now.
Ricardo – I am the one who should be thankful. I enjoyed it, and I knew I was going to learn a lot. I loved the ideas that Henrique brought. We should talk more, Henrique.
Henrique – I still have all my notes on surveillance that I wanted to discuss. So, we can continue our conversation. Guys, thank you. Thank you, Corina, for the invitation again, and send Andy a hug. And Ricardo, thank you also for your time, I learned a great deal.
Corina – Thank you so much.
Ricardo – I am the one to thank you. Good-bye Corina, good wishes to all of you.
Corina – Good-bye. Thank you for listening, everyone. Follow us in our social media channels and look at the show notes for links to our speakers’ work. Join us next time for more interesting conversations.
Mentioned in Podcast:
Pimenta Lab, projeto do Henrique Parra (Henrique Parra’s project), https://pimentalab.milharal.org/
Entrevista com Ricardo Teixeira do Observatório de Análise Política em Saúde (Interview with Ricardo Teixeira), http://www.analisepoliticaemsaude.org/oaps/documentos/noticias/entrevista-do-mes-de-abril-ricardo-teixeira/
Boletim sobre tecnologias e vigilância durante a pandemia da LAVITS – Rede Latino-americana de estudos sobre vigilância, tecnologia e sociedade da qual o Henrique Parra participa (LAVITS bulletin), http://lavits.org/category/noticias/?lang=pt
Epoisódio anterior que o Henrique Parra participou aqui no The Human Show (previous episode that Henrique joined in this podcast), https://worldpodcasts.com/dr-henrique-z-m-parra-professor-social-sciences-unifesp-brazil-working-teaching-at-the-intersection-between-technology-open-data-transparency-and-social-activism-in-the-public-space-the-h/