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Symbols and Spaces. Sociological Reflections from and inside the Corona Crisis

Hubert Knoblauch
20. May 2020
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Working Paper Nr.5 “Symbols and Spaces. Sociological Reflections from and inside the Corona Crisis” by Hubert Knoblauch

Based on the thesis that the corona crisis can be explained as a conflict between two spatial figurations, this paper is dedicated to the question of whether and to what extent the massive shutdown in particular can be understood as a kind of symbolic politics. Indeed, the shutdown is primarily a spatial phenomenon that can be said to support the communication between a government, now in an equally massive asymmetric leadership position and a society degraded to population. However, this asymmetric communication must not be seen as a legitimizing superstructure phenomenon, as is the case in conspiracy theory approaches. Just as symbolic communication by means of spaces draws very material boundaries that extend from state borders to the doors of apartments, it also serves to communicate a risk (only scientifically and technically knowable) that is anchored in bodily communication. Because the spaces of interaction are increasingly digitalised, mediatised and thus transferred into a network logic, the “crisis” is characterised by a dramatisation of the tension between the spatial figuration of closed containers and unbounded networks. This pattern may appear in its radicality as an anti-structure (which suspends basic rights of co-determination, habitual work activities, etc.), but, according to the thesis of this contribution, it does not represent merely an “anti-structure”, but follows the patterns of refiguration that have been existent before.

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