refiguring the healthy population

Yesterday, Xinhuashe circulated #动态清零怎么看怎么干# (image below), which translates as #how to understand and implement dynamic zero-Covid. Inside the parentheses, the question is raised: “if so many countries are ‘lying down,’ #why are we persisting with dynamic zero-Covid#? The answer to the question hinges on how population governance works in China. According to the article to which the weibo tweet refers, there are over 50 million elderly Chinese who have not yet been vaccinated. They are all vulnerable to catching and dying from Covid. Anyone who doesn’t comply with current protocols is (implicitly) threatening the health of those 50 million elders. Indeed, the rhetorical power of these tweet hinges on an unspoken assumption: what is more anti-social than threatening the lives of elders? Thus, alternative opinions on how the outbreak should be handled are not simply debates about public health protocols, but also and more importantly pose a serious challenge to social stability because they are intrinsically anti-social behaviors.

In trying to think through the logic behind the connections between public debate about health protocols and social stability, re-reading Susan Greenhalgh‘s work on population governance has proven incredibly useful. Her basic point is that the politics of reproduction is a key feature of modern government, especially how we imagine embodied relationships between past and future. Population governance touches on all aspects of citizen rights and obligations, specifically access to birth control and abortion. However, during the late 20th century, population governance has expanded to include how societies organize access to healthcare, economics (workforce ratios), environmental issues (population densities) and the meaning of human life (gerontology as an expanding field of study, for example). Population governance also shows up how eugenics have shaped modern politics throughout the world. In other words, population governance has become central not only to how we imagine ourselves as belonging (or not) to society, but also to how governments justify which public health programs to pursue and how to implement them.

Continue reading