Introduction | Nobutaka Otobe

by Critical Asia

by Nobutaka Otobe, June 2021】

For this Japan-curated sub-issue, we have focused on the topic of the relationship between politics and science during the COVID-19 pandemic. More than 18 months have passed since the initial reports of the virus. Although the pandemic is far from over, its long-lasting impacts have become more visible. It has affected diverse matters, including global markets, social infrastructure, people’s habits, and their perceptions of the environment. Among these issues, we focus on the relationship between politics and science.

The COVID-19 pandemic has posed several questions concerning politics and science and their entangled relationship. First, the strict measures introduced by governments (e.g., lockdowns, travel bans) raise questions about the scope and effects of state power. For the last couple of decades, states have seemed like loyal allies of global capitalism. If they have not become powerless, neoliberal states have been losing their sovereign autonomy vis-à-vis domestic and international markets. Before the pandemic, we could not have imagined, for example, the travel restrictions so widely imposed by states worldwide. Has the pandemic changed or even revived states’ power? In answering this question, Satofumi Kawamura’s essay provides us with a more sober assessment. According to him, crises are driving forces of neoliberal governmentality, and the current situation is “not restoration, but rather the exposure of how the state power has operated so far.”

Second, the power of states, now made more visible by the pandemic, has led us to consider their performance. Why have some states seemed to handle the pandemic more effectively than others, and why have some been more responsive to scientific revelations? Although the numbers of cases and deaths remain relatively low in Japan, they are higher than in other countries and regions in East Asia. Takayuki Onai’s essay explores why Japan has failed to respond to the pandemic effectively.

Finally, the pandemic prompts us to reconsider the relationship between the socio-political and the biological dimensions. How should we address the impact of biological phenomena (such infection by the virus) while remaining attentive to socio-political factors? Sakino Takahashi’s essay takes up this question, focusing on issue of gender and sex.

Nobutaka Otobe, Osaka University, Japan

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