09 Feb SPEAKER SERIES: Authoritarianism during COVID-19 featuring Umut Korkut
February 11, 2021
This seminar is going to reflect on three topics namely accountability, responsibility, and solidarity at the intersection of democratic and authoritarian governance facing the Covid-19 pandemic.
Societies are exposed to a range of risks where complex modern social systems interface with the natural world and the wider geopolitical order (Beck, 1992; Perrow, 2011). While climate change is the most existentially serious risk facing humanity, terror attacks, natural disasters, and migration linked to civil wars are further examples of emergencies that continue to shape European polities. Recently, the coronavirus pandemic has illustrated how radically socio-ecological risks can transform the everyday lives of citizens. Lockdowns have shown both the enduring strength of public solidarity and the potentially disruptive impact of misinformation – “fake news”, illiberal populist narratives but also poor government communication – in emergency situations. The bomb blast in Beirut has been a further reminder of how rapidly disaster scenarios can precipitate a breakdown in the social and political order. Both cases highlight the delicate bonds of trust between governments and citizens and show that issues of preparedness, risk awareness, and responsibility apply to policymakers just as much as the public.
Crisis and disaster create complex challenges for governance as they destroy human lives and dignity (Kelman, 2015). Rather than governing only “through risk,” leaders are now governing through “uncertainty.” At the same time, leadership during disasters is more challenging because citizens are more anxious and less tolerant of hazards to their way of life. Many people feel vulnerable, but different segments of society are differentially affected by disaster and more or less involved in its prevention and recovery. Differential knowledge and anxiety are increasingly a source of societal conflict. For example, during the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, we have seen that all groups in society felt that they were at risk, notwithstanding conflicting opinions as to the magnitude of hazards. People have not been able to agree on how to address issues of public health, economic recovery, and personal security. Eventually, while the pandemic hits the elder generations more indiscriminately, the young generations are asked to sacrifice both economically and socially as lockdowns hit their economic and social activities. As this is the generation that has also felt the brunt of the 2008 economic crisis in terms of job security and access to housing, it will be highly crucial to follow how their political reactions to sacrificing their futures to protect older generations, considered to be financially more robust given pensions in Western Europe and house ownership structures. At the same time, the pandemic made people more inclined to remain local in order to avoid bringing the virus into their communities from further afield. This is prone to generate a clash between those who can afford to remain local such as people without international jobs or non-migrant backgrounds and those who need to maintain an international lifestyle considering their jobs and family relations abroad.
Reflecting on these general issues and specific questions, this seminar debates accountability, responsibility, and solidarity as three themes of governance in particular to the period starting with the covid-19 pandemic.
Umut Korkut is a Professor in International Politics at Glasgow Caledonian University. Umut serves Political Studies Association (PSA) as Trustee and International Lead, the International Political Science Association (IPSA) as Executive Committee Member and coordinates three EU-funded projects. He is interested in how political discourse, aesthetics, and visual imagery create audiences, following this theoretical interest across various empirical fields central to European politics such as gender and politics, populism, and migration. Prof Korkut is starting to lead a new Horizon 2020 project entitled D.Rad: De-Radicalisation in Europe and Beyond: Detect, Resolve, Re-integrate (2020-2023) in December 2020.