Language and Surveillance Practices. The Political Role of Foucault’s and Schmitt’s Theories and War Metaphors in the Political Narrative of the Covid-19 Pandemic

Patrizia Piredda


In the case of the first surge of covid-19, the metaphor “we are at war” was immediately used insofar as it was understandable and easily adaptable to the sanitary emergency of the covid-19 pandemic and therefore determined an emotional predisposition, on the one hand, to abide by the restrictions; but on the other hand, it gave rise to a negative feeling of fear that in turn caused several collateral drawbacks: fear of the other, hunt for the “anointers” who spread the virus, spying on neighbours, lack of solidarity, and mental conditions such as anxiety, depression and phobias.

Starting with these premises, in this paper I will analyse the use of language and metaphors in the context of the covid-19 pandemic in connection to surveillance, state of emergency, and critique of values. I will attempt a critical analysis of two different perspectives that have been applied as interpretative models of the covid-19 pandemic: Schmitt’s crisis of values and Foucault’s surveillance, which I will integrate with Agamben’s reflections on the state of emergency.

The article has two purposes: by analysing how Schmitt’s and Foucault’s texts and theories have often been referred to uncritically and applied to the pandemic mechanically, to support or challenge the political decision of introducing social restrictions, I will first explain why covid-19 narratives have often been confusing; and second, I will discuss the role that war-metaphors played in persuading people to accept the restrictions and diverting the attention from important political and social problems, such as the crisis of public health systems.



Covid-19; Foucault; Schmitt; Metaphor and Covid-19; Political narratives Covid-19

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