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Mongolia and Inner Asia Studies Unit



Piers Vitebsky & Roza Laptander

University of Cambridge & University of Hamburg

Trust Versus Paranoia:  Can the Siberian fire spirit explain the spectacular failure of the UK Covid track and trace app?

(NB abstract updated 29.04.2021):

We contrast how the UK's Covid-19 track and trace system gives warnings about exposure to infection, with how the domestic fire in a nomadic reindeer herder's tent crackles warnings about dangers on the Siberian landscape, just as animals give warnings to their humans through anomalous behaviour.  These omens are an issue less of epistemology than of signalling and coherence, as well as of loyalty and care.  We locate differing configurations of trust and suspicion in social and political context.  The technocratic Covid app de-personalizes tracing, as individualism and concerns about privacy block channels of knowing and narrativity, leading to incomplete care and encouraging non-compliance and conspiracy theories.  For Siberian nomads, intimacy between humans and animals leads, not to the dangerous viral jump of the epidemiologists, but to the constitution of human persons.  Rather than the epidemiological model of the besieged bounded body, this regime of signs evokes a divinatory openness to space, time and event which ironically resembles an alternative scientific understanding of the viral encounter.  

Tuesday, 4 May, 2021 - 16:30 to 18:00
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