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The Proliferating Borders of Capital and the Pandemic Swerve

Angela Mitropoulos

July 2020

IN NOVEMBER 2019, a new strain of coronavirus appeared in Wuhan, China, and quickly spread across the world. Since then, the pandemic has exposed the brutal limits of care and health under capitalism.
Pandemonium underscores the turning-points between neoliberalism and authoritarian government, crystallized by ineffective responses to the pandemic. In so doing, it questions capitalist understandings of order and disorder, of health and disease, and the new world borders which proliferate through distinctly capitalist definitions of risk and uncertainty. 

From the origins of the crisis at the crossroads of fossil-fueled pollution and the privatisation of healthcare in China, Mitropoulos follows the virus’ spread as governments embraced reckless strategies of  ‘containment’ and ‘herd immunity.’ Exoticist explanations of the pandemic and the recourse to quarantines and travel bans racialised the disease, while the reluctance to expand healthcare capacity displaced the risk onto private households and private wealth.
Tracing iterations of borders through the histories of population theory, the political contract and epidemiology, Mitropoulos goes on to discuss the circuits of capitalist value in pharmaceuticals, protective equipment and catastrophe bonds. These and the treatment of populations as capitalist ‘stock’ in demands to ‘reopen the economy’ reveal a world where the very definition of ‘the economy’ and infrastructure are fundamentally shifting.
Much will depend on how these are understood, and debts are reckoned, in the months and years to come. 

Table of Contents

1. Introduction

2. Origin of the Species
Origins ~ Taxonomy ~ Speciation ~ Herding

3. Quarantine
Neoliberalism ~ Colonialism ~ Medieval Europe ~ Cordon Sanitaire

4. Bodies In Motion
Herd Immunity ~ Hobbes ~ Malthus ~ Epidemiological Mathematics ~ Statistics, Class and Racial Classification
5. Pharmakon
Patriarchal Feelings ~ Risk-taking, Risk-shifting ~ Pushing Hydroxychloroquine ~ Experiments, Trials and Labrats
6. Liquid Geometries of Value
Pandemic Bonds ~ Supply-chain Logistics
7. Economy and Infrastructure
Money and Debt ~ Postpandem Contracts


This extraordinary work offers urgent analysis of the pandemic’s politics of life and death, anchored in the longer histories and wider politics of bodies and borders, economy and infrastructure, and contagion. The abundant insight Mitropoulos offers readers is a precious gift.

An invaluable guide through the excessive noise of overlapping crises. Read this if, like so many of us, you need to pause and take in a broader sweep of thought, of history, and of ways of understanding as we all try to survive yet another deadly plague.

Deborah Cowen

Professor of Geography, University of Toronto and author of The Deadly Life of Logistics

Gargi Bhattacharayya

Professor of Sociology, University of East London and author of Rethinking Racial Capitalism