As increasing numbers of countries across the globe impose exceptional measures to confront the COVID-19 pandemic, we find ourselves facing an unprecedented (but predictable and, indeed, predicted) global emergency. While we can’t fully know exactly how this rapidly-changing situation will impact our everyday lives, we can already begin to glimpse its magnitude at various scales.  

As the rate of contagions and deaths accelerate and more and more countries join the global lock-down, satellite photographs begin to show a significant reduction in CO2 levels. Images of crystal-clear waters running through the Venice canals and of wild animals venturing into the now-deserted urban landscapes invite thoughts of a number of possible post-apocalyptic scenarios or new worlds.  

In the present, however, new surveillance techniques (Korea, Singapore) appear as the only viable alternative to the state of exception that is being imposed across the world that (China, Italy, Spain, and counting) in the fight against the epidemic crisis. National borders and solutions once again gain importance in detriment of transnational alliances (EU, WHO). 

We are bombarded with numbers (of infected, of recovered, of dead) and new scientific advances (or hopes of these) every day. A series of potentially dangerous signifiers, some more familiar than others, begins to stand out in the narrative construction of this crisis: ‘quarantine’, ‘social distancing’, ‘sanitary crisis’, ‘death’, ‘virus’, ‘war’, ‘invisible enemy’. Yet, the sense of urgency that reaches us through the media often contrasts with the deceleration of our everyday lives, as we see our work and other ‘normal’ activities suspended. 

Locked up at home, our sense of time-space compression is altered as well. Distances matter once again. We learn to greet each other with our elbows, we are told to stand two meters apart. Physical human contact stops or becomes highly exclusive. We learn to communicate via new means, sometimes across balconies, but mostly through the looking-glass of a computer screen. The social is reformulated through the virtual and new forms of solidarity emerge. 

How are we to think through, rather than just chronicle, this emerging reality in front of our eyes? How are we to come to grips with different forms and experiences of this crisis — given different responses to it across countries and continents, and also given global health inequalities and digital divides? Who gets to narrate this crisis? What are the ephemeral and more lasting implications of this crisis? Where do we see risks, potentialities and implications? What do we fear and hope for?

At Social Anthropology/Anthropologie Sociale, the journal of European Association for Social Anthropologists (EASA), we think it is essential to critically engage and reflect on the present situation and what the future may hold. We are in urgent need of generating new tools for understanding the reality that unfolds at this very moment. This includes thinking across our research domains — from medical to political anthropology, from science and technology studies to those of religion, from digital to traditional ethnography. What moral vocabularies, forms of authority and appeals to knowledge are being leveraged in the crisis? How are aspects of the outbreak strain our own anthropological heuristics — notions of solidarity, isolation, domesticity and care? 

To encourage this collective effort, we call for an Urgent Forum, and seek brief contributions (500 words max) from anthropologists engaging with any of the aspects sketched above, or with any other urgent issues relevant to the present situation.   

The deadline for contributions is April 10th. We are aware that this time frame is very short, but we believe it is important to publish these responses in our next issue (May 2020). The texts will be reviewed directly by the editors of the journal to speed up the process of publication. Please contact the journal editors Laia Soto Bermant (laia.soto@easaonline.org) and Nikolai Ssorin-Chaikov (nikolai.ssorin-chaikov@easaonline.org) for further information and to submit your contribution. 

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