Structural Violence and Hope in Catastrophic Times: From Camus’ The Plague to Covid-19

Ahmed Kabel, Robert Phillipson

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Covid-19 has triggered a resurgence of interest in Albert Camus’ book, The Plague. The novel is a complex narrative of an epidemic, stressing the human factor in addressing a social crisis as well as how individuals experience the personal drama of quarantine, isolation and death. These existentialist tropes have powerful resonance in the age of Covid-19. However, Covid’s interlocking with structural violence worldwide requires a different engagement with The Plague beyond an aesthetics of suffering and hope. Both Camus’ book and Covid-19 intersect with structural violence and suffering which are mediated differentially. Covid-19 intensifies other social catastrophes feeding on the ruins of structural inequality and the racism that condemns the marginalised to loss of agency, social apartheid and disposability. It also lays bare the necropolitics of neoliberalism – its power to dictate life and death undergirded by racialised, class, gendered and neocolonial logics. We witness emerging cartographies of power combined with virulent nationalism, authoritarianism and xenophobia. The Covid crisis is also likely to expand disaster capitalism, digital imperialism and algorithmic surveillance, further entrenching racial, class and gender hierarchies. If humanity is to avoid the pitfalls of these myriad fields of disaster intervention, what is needed is reflective analysis that has to aim at major societal change, at decolonisation that ends systemic abandon and racist structural violence. Camus’ book fails to assist this.
Original languageEnglish
JournalRace & Class
Issue number4
Pages (from-to)3-18
Number of pages16
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2021

Bibliographical note

Published online: 2. December 2020


  • Camus
  • Catastrophe
  • Covid-19
  • Decolonisation
  • Hope
  • Racism
  • Structural violence
  • The Plague

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