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Te Tari Moromoroiti me te Ārai Mate


Posted by on 8 August 2022 | Comments

1:00pm, Monday, 8 August
Room BIG13, Ground Floor
Biochemistry Building
710 Cumberland St


Dr Susan Wardell
Department of Anthropology

‘Becoming ‘vulnerable’: new and old categories of personhood, in pandemic times’ 

During the early phases of the pandemic, Aotearoa’s public health messaging focused heavily on ‘vulnerable’ people. Some people who were labelled as such, accepted this, while others resisted the classification. Later, the distribution of healthcare measures (such as vaccines) was also organised to prioritise vulnerable individuals or communities.

This talk draws on data from a multimethodological (Marsden-funded) study of medical crowdfunding in Aotearoa, which spanned early to current phases of the pandemic. It connects the stories told on platforms like Givealittle, by people with non-Covid-related health issues, to the wider context of pandemic citizenship. Analysis suggested that by highlighting their vulnerability, crowdfunders strategically mobilised lockdown discourses of self-sacrifice on the behalf of vulnerable people, in order to secure care – whether or not they fitted into government-designated categories of vulnerability, or were in fact made vulnerable by lockdown policies.  

The talk applies a social constructionist perspective - with specific reference to Ian Hacking’s “dynamic nominalism” – in order to highlight the relationship between classifications/categories of personhood, systems of care, and lived experiences. It emphasises how ‘old’ categories took on new meanings in these new contexts, and re-shaped social experiences of illness and disability as they did.