Lecture Series

On 3 February 2022, Tithi Bhattacharya, Professor of History and Director of Global Studies at Purdue University and renowned feminist scholar, joined Ian McKay for a conversation about social reproduction theory, capitalism, and the often unpaid and frequently underappreciated work undertaken by women during Covid-19. She is co-author of Feminism for the 99%, which is included in Issue 3’s bookshelf here!

Both of those tendencies go on at the same time. On the one hand, it [capitalism] giveth – it creates minimal conditions for life to continue and reproduce and the working-class family to be continuously reproduced. On the other hand, it taketh away, in that it makes it impossible for many working-class families not just to flourish, but even to exist in many cases. Here I think race, ethnicity, caste come in…. We have a disproportionate social reproduction of certain families at the expense of others…. In other words, if the worker makes profit [possible], then what are the processes, social processes, and institutional processes that make the worker? So, profit-making versus people-making.

Tithi Bhattacharya, on capitalism, social reproduction, status, and the Covid-19 pandemic

On 4 November 2021, Nancy Fraser, Henry and Louise A. Loeb Professor of Philosophy and Politics at the New School for Social Research and co-author of Feminism for the 99%: A Manifesto and Capitalism: A Conversation in Critical Theory, joined Ian McKay for a conversation about the dysfunctionality of capitalism.

What the pandemic really diagnoses, I claim, is the deep-seated dysfunctionality of capitalism. Truth be told… Covid is a perfect storm of capitalist irrationality and injustice, more than anything in recent memory, certainly than anything in my lifetime, it discloses the system’s multiple contradictions: ecological, political, social, and economic. All of these contradictions are banked into a social order that incentivizes a profit hungry class of owners to devour the essential conditions of their own existence, and what’s worse, the essential conditions of our existence. It incentivizes them in other words to guzzle care work, to scarf up nature, to eviscerate public power, to wolf down the wealth of racialized populations, and to suck dry the energy and creativity of all working people.  

Nancy Fraser, on Covid-19 and capitalist decay

On 15 July 2021, Chandrima Chakraborty, Professor in the Department of English and Cultural Studies here at Mac and author of Mapping South Asian Masculinities: Men and Political Crises, spoke with Ian McKay about race, class, and the pandemic.

And I’ve been deeply interested in in questions of public memory and cultural history questions of what gets scaled up to the level of the national or the global and what always stays at the level of the local and with the global pandemic. I think the losses are multifaceted; many have died quietly, many have been grieving in isolation, many families have not been able to perform last rites and rituals that provide solace to the families, many have not been able to see family members who died in another city or died in another country… But there have been other kinds of losses too. Losses of jobs, losses of employment, housing, and I will say the loss of national belonging if you think of the anti-Asian racism that we are talking about, and the effects are that has on mental health the racial grief of non-belonging feeling and non-secure in your citizenship. I mean, those are losses too and deep losses that is not just bound within the family but spills over into communities and children and trans-generational memories, so the losses are multiple. I think it is a public health crisis that has demonstrated the inequities in our societies, and we have to acknowledge all these different kinds of losses if we are going to learn from this critical movement of history so I think there cannot be no one way to commemorate this because it’s shared losses but some losses are also very particular as we know.

Chakraborty on losses during Covid-19

On 24 June 2021, Nicholas Christakis, Author of Apollo’s Arrow: The Profound and Enduring Impact of Coronavirus on the Way We Live, spoke with Ian McKay about the onset of the pandemic, social disruption, and lies.

Fear, lies and denial have always been companions of plagues for thousands of years. In fact, denial is such a constant feature of epidemics that we might even think of denial as an essential aspect of an epidemic. In other words, we might even add social factors to our epidemiological definition of what it means to have an epidemic. If you see plague as one of the four horsemen of the apocalypse, mendacity is its squire following right behind it.

Nick Christakis, on the connections between denial and epidemic disease

On 10 June 2021, Pat Armstrong, author of A Place to Call Home: Long Term Care in Canada, joined Ian McKay for a conversation.

I think …what we have to do is stop reifying the private home as the absolute ideal for the entire world. We have to remember there are an awful lot of people who don’t have homes. Or, we have to remember what feminists have said for a long time: homes aren’t necessarily havens in a heartless world. As we’ve learned during this pandemic, they can be lonely, they can be violent, they can be a problem rather than a solution…

Pat Armstrong, on the experiences of Canadian elders in long term care homes

On 3 June, 2021, André Picard, author of Neglected No More: The Urgent Need to Improve the Lives of Canada’s Elders in the Wake of a Pandemic, joined Ian McKay for a conversation about the pervasive fear of aging, Canada’s healthcare system, and elder care during the Covid-19 pandemic.

I think we’re very many prisoners of our history and especially in Canadian healthcare right now. Why do we do a lot of things just because we’ve always done them that way. We have a very hospital-centric healthcare system. We have Medicare, which everybody loves Medicare, but I often make the point that we have the least universal health care system in the world. We brought in universal care around the same time as many countries, like Britain and many European countries, but they kept changing and we didn’t. We’re kind of stuck in 1957 had this system built for people in the 1950s and that’s not what the world is anymore so really it’s about adaptation, and again, when we look to other countries it’s a reminder that this this can be done easily. It’s not going to bankrupt us. There’s this constant argument, ‘well we’d like to treat our elders better but it’s too expensive,’ and it’s not true. The countries with the best elder care actually have much cheaper health care costs in Canada, because they take better care of people. 

André Picard, on healthcare systems in Canada

On 27 May 2021, Andreas Malm, author of Corona, Climate, Chronic Emergency, joined Ian McKay for a conversation about climate change, increased rapidity of natural disasters, fossil fascism, and zoonotic diseases.

Global warming raises new questions for historians, and I think also send us looking back at things that have happened with new eyes, and it’s part of what we’re doing in in this White Skin, Black Field Book on the danger of fossil fascism. We look at how classical fascists, the Mussolini regime in Italy and the NSDAP regime in Germany, how they dealt with fossil fuel technologies. Against the background of what’s happening today with the far right positioning itself as the kind of most aggressive defender of business as usual, it’s quite significant that the interwar far right the classical fascists were so extremely fetishistic about cars, airplanes, and coal combustion in Germany and its various derivations… And this can be applied to very many different historical fields over the past centuries. 

Andreas Malm, on new avenues for historical research into fossil fuel

On 13 May 2021, Mike Davis, author of Set the Night on Fire, joined Ian McKay for a conversation about the connections between Covid-19, a corporate livestock revolution linked to neoliberalism, and urbanization in the Global South.

Covid was anticipated to an extraordinary degree. After the outbreak of avian flu in 2003 folks in southeast Asia people knew a pandemic was coming, and they knew that the virus would originate in contact between animals sold as food items and particularly bats. So, there was a major collaboration between a US NGO and the researchers at the virology institute in Wuhan. They were down there for years exploring in the caves of Szechuan and discovered that bats, which of course the most numerous mammals on the planet — some 1500 species, they identified something like 800 different coronaviruses that might be capable of emergence and transmission. Their program was abruptly ended by President Trump.

Mike Davis, on zoologic transmission and predicting the Covid-19 pandemic

On 15 April 2021, Laura Spinney, journalist at The Guardian and author of Pale Rider, joined Ian McKay for a conversation about the 1918 influenza pandemic, lessons from historical memory, and the methods used to control the Covid-19 pandemic, or lack thereof.

I think it’s fascinating that there’s a certain irony in this conversation, because I wrote my book because nobody was talking about 1918. Approaching its centenary and nobody was talking about it. Only a year ago — still in this pandemic but for many years beforehand as well — public health experts were wringing their hands over the fact that we never remember, we never take the lessons away, we don’t remember. We go through this cycle of panic and complacency, as they talk about it, where we panic when the new pandemic emerges and then we forget it immediately — that it’s gone, and we don’t learn the lessons and voila and that continues. So, I think it has to be a question of which lessons to take from history, and that of course is the nab of it, that’s where all the difficulty lies.

Laura Spinney, on comparisons between the 1918 influenza pandemic and the Covid-19 pandemic