A Bitter Pill: The Responsiveness of Modern Autocracies in the Covid-19 Pandemic
Anna L. Ahlers
Are autocracies better equipped to tackle the grand challenges of the 21st century? A science-informed and expert-led authority that can swiftly allocate essential resources wherever needed and defend the common good against particularistic desires and harmful individualistic behavior: not least since emergency responses to anthropogenic climate change are discussed, there seems to be a renaissance of such modern authoritarian desires. The global Covid-19 crisis is now the latest arena for such considerations. But what exactly distinguishes pandemic science governance under different political regimes? In this brief talk, I will refer to specific empirical insights from the case I study closely, the People’s Republic of China, but also test some more comparative and conceptual ideas.
What Makes a Crisis? Political Narratives of Covid-19
How did the Covid-19 pandemic become a crisis? What types of scientific imaginations trigger political actions? In this mini-lecture I will focus on the reactions to the coronavirus in southern European countries, where the health and economic costs of the pandemic have been enormous. I will pay particular attention to two developments: the place of experts in party politics and the appropriation of transnational narratives. Both of these interconnected stories complicate the dichotomy between democratic and authoritarian regimes when it comes to science governance. They also invite us to revise the concept of technocracy in a politically and scientifically plural world.
About the Panelists
Anna L. Ahlers
Anna L. Ahlers is currently assembling a Lise Meitner Research Group at the MPIWG, "China in the Global System of Science," which will explore the many facets of China’s stunning ascent in the global system of science in recent decades qualitatively and quantitatively. Her own current research projects focus on the political regime as an environmental factor for science, and the intersections and interactions of scientists/scholars with the government in local policy-making in the PR China.
Anna Ahlers studied sinology and political science at the University of Tübingen, Peking University, and Renmin University (PR China), and holds a PhD in China Studies from the University of Tübingen. Before joining the MPIWG in January 2020, she was a tenured Associate Professor in Modern Chinese Society and Politics at the University of Oslo, Norway. She has also worked at the University of Bonn (FIW), Zhejiang University (PR China), the Mercator Institute for China Studies (MERICS), Academia Sinica (RoChina), and the University of Chicago where she was a Wigeland Visiting Professor in the academic year 2018/19. She is a board member of the Junge Akademie (BBAW und Leopoldina) and a fellow at the Wissenschaftskolleg zu Berlin in 2020/21.
Photo: David Ausserhofer, 2020.
Lino Camprubí is a Ramón y Cajal Researcher at the Universidad de Sevilla. After graduate studies in Cornell, he obtained his PhD in UCLA in 2011. He has worked as a researcher at the UABarcelona and the MPIWG in Berlin, and as a visiting lecturer at UChicago. He is co-PI of the research project IBEROT@C and PI of the ERC-CoG DEEPMED. He has wide interests concerning history and philosophy of science, from engineering and politics to oceanography and warfare.
Camprubí is the author of Engineers and the Making of the Francoist Regime (MIT Press, 2014) and Los ingenieros de Franco (Crítica, 2017), recipient of the ICOHTEC 2018 Book Prize. He has also co-edited Technology and Globalization (Palgrave Economic History Series, 2018), De la Guerra Fría al calentamiento global (Catarata, 2018) and the special issue “Experiencing the Global Environment” (SHPS, 2018). He has published in HSNS, Technology and Culture, Energy Policy and SHPS. More recently, he has co-edited an interdisciplinary book on the corona crisis (Sociedad entre pandemias, 2021).
Crisis and Capacity: Perspectives in the Humanities and Social Sciences
Months have passed since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic. People have experienced the effects of the virus’ rapid global spread: the politicization of medicine, worldwide shortages of and bidding wars for protective equipment, disputes and uneven public health messaging about prevention and treatments, disproportionate distributions of health risks in populations, and mass mortality. While many issues related to the Covid-19 outbreak are dealt with by scientists and health practitioners—such as the search for treatments and cures—other concerns command the expertise of scholars in the humanities and social sciences.
Developing from the MPIWG's History of Science ON CALL video project, the Institute’s Colloquium 2020/21 therefore facilitates conversations around how humanities and social sciences scholars might deliberately or inadvertently form a long view of critical contemporary issues, aiming to:
Normalize reflexive intellectual discussions about challenging topics about inequalities such as race or gender
Connect to other dialogues within and beyond Berlin about plural histories and sociologies of crises
Ultimately, the program seeks to bring to the fore various insights into local, regional, and international cooperation and academic work prompted by Covid-19.