3. Discrimination, Othering, and the Political Instrumentalizing of Pandemic Disease Two Case Studies

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Martina Baradel
Emanuele Costa


The complex history of pandemics has created a diversified array of anti-epidemic responses, which have allowed structures of authority to express their power in multiple ways. In this paper, by considering theories applicable to cases ranging from Europe to Asia, from the 11th to the 18th century, we conduct a comparative analysis capable of identifying common traits and radical differences, aiming to show how such deployment of power was not always commensurate with the medical theories of the age, and with the gravity of the epidemiological situation. Specifically, we analyse how Western European States, in their process of formation, employed the concept of ‘public health’ to create the grounds for an unprecedented exercise of power over the private sphere. Furthermore, we compare this attitude with the discrimination of the minority known as burakumin in Japan, which was destined to undertake any ‘dirty’ or ‘impure’ occupation, to preserve the immunity of the community. In other words, we examine how structures of power have exploited states of exception to implement control measures beyond the needs of the situation through an increasingly hypertrophic apparatus of security; and ways in which political authorities have not aligned with medical or philosophical authorities of their times, for opportunistic reasons that benefited their own social, religious, or racial group.

Keywords: Pandemics, Discrimination, Immunity, Purity, Burakumin


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