Ep #56: Imagined Communities, Freedom, Death and not blaming Capitalism: This month on TFS

Given the recently instigated social distancing rules in Canberra, this week we bring you a special “online” episode! For the safety of everyone, and especially in line with our own efforts to flatten the curve, we recorded this panel from the comfort of our own homes using the increasingly popular online video conferencing tool: Zoom. For this reason, the audio quality will be a little different to our usual studio sound.

This was our first experiment with this kind of podcast recording, and we look forward to exploring new possibilities and avenues for connecting with each other, other anthropologists, and anyone who is keen to talk strange with us in the future.

For now, though, Jodie [1:30] starts off this episode by discussing how Covid-19 is changing the ideas of what nationhood and identity mean in this new, largely online, world. Drawing on Benedict Anderson’s work on ‘Imagined Communities’, she asks us about our own experiences, and how things have changed or not over these past few weeks. What do you think?

Next, Simon [6:30]  reflects on the concept of freedom (and unfreedom) and how it has been tied to being human, especially in relation to the physical distancing measures put in place during Covid-19 pandemic by numerous governments around the world. Quoting Rousseau that “man is born free but he is everywhere in chains”, Simon questions how people see their freedom now, and, more importantly, what does freedom mean in the Covid-19 crisis?

Then, Julia [12:22] tells us about her recent work in palliative care and asks us to reflect on how the crisis has caused us to think more deeply about death and our relationship with it in our daily lives. How have our conversations changed around death and “moving on”? Alex shares that his family is quite open about death, possibly because they are a secret family of zombies? Simon discusses the findings of a study by Jong and Colleagues in 2015, which suggests that people who are agnostic are the most afraid of death. Has the Covid-19 crisis changed your thinking about mortality in any way? 

Finally, Alex [17:23] ends our panel this week by turning our attention from the on the ground personal experiences during Covid-19, to a more macro issue: capitalism. Specifically, the criticisms of capitalism he has seen online throughout the coronavirus pandemic. He has been grappling with the notion that something so large, and pervasive, can be a detriment to our own reflexivity and self reflection. Julia uses Australia as an example, which currently has a conservative government but is also participating in more ‘socialist’ activities, such as seeking to provide financial aid to those who need it and enacting protocols of physical distancing for the ‘good of all’. Simon suggests that certain aspects of capitalism, like the “Free Market”, have been somewhat challenged in the current state of affairs that come with a pandemic. 

‘Social distancing’ by Jorge Pena


For an overview of Benedict Anderson’s ‘Imagined Communities’, give this a read: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Imagined_Communities

And if you’re interested in other ideas of ‘imagined communities’ in the online realm, perhaps give Chapter 2 in the book ‘Creating Second Lives: Community, Identity and Spatiality As Constructions of the Virtual’ a look. https://www-taylorfrancis-com.virtual.anu.edu.au/books/e/9780203828571/chapters/10.4324/9780203828571-9

You can check out Saba Mahmood’s work here: https://anthropology.berkeley.edu/saba-mahmood

The study that Simon mentions about death can be found here: https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/2153599X.2016.1238844?journalCode=rrbb20

Let us know what you thought about this episode and any of the questions we asked on Twitter @TFSTweets or on Facebook in our group The Familiar Strange Chats.

Our Patreon can be found at https://www.patreon.com/thefamiliarstrange

This anthropology podcast is supported by the Australian Anthropological Society, the ANU’s College of Asia and the Pacific and College of Arts and Social Sciences, and the Australian Centre for the Public Awareness of Science, and is produced in collaboration with the American Anthropological Association.

Music by Pete Dabro: dabro1.bandcamp.com
Shownotes by Matthew Phung and Deanna Catto
Podcast edited by Jodie-Lee Trembath and Matthew Phung

Feature image by Jorge Pena (2020) ‘Social distancing’ https://flic.kr/p/2iNDyDi

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