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COVID-19 and the Meaning of Crisis

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Abdelrahman, Maha 



The last few decades have seen the rise of a discourse of crisis and a huge expansion in the use of the concept and meanings attached to it. A catch word, the term appears everywhere: financial crisis, housing crisis, humanitarian crisis, food crisis, leadership crisis, ecological crisis, development crisis and, of course, a crisis of modernity. Increasingly, a crisis is no longer declared in the singular. Instead, we are progressively faced with episodes of ‘twin crisis’ (Kaminsky and Reinhart 1999, SIRIP 2022) or ‘polycrisis’ (EU Commission 2021)1, which can be cascading, enduring, creeping or transboundary – or a combination. Crisis has become part of an ever-expanding lexical chain that weaves concepts such as disaster, emergency, risk, vulnerability and resilience which, in turn, interact to create an analytical lens through which we are expected to understand the world, survive it, and then reconstruct it (Calhoun 2004). By the end of the 20th century, crisis discourse had given rise to a global industry of crisis management complete with research centres, training courses, global reports, academic publications and a class of crisis management experts, all tasked with helping policy makers fix a world constantly ‘on the brink’ (Olds and Thrift, 2005). Interest in crisis, as a framework of analysis, cuts across different political and ideological camps and is embraced by ruling elites, global financial institutions and anti-systemic movements alike. The equivocal nature of the concept and its deployment in fields as wide ranging as politics, culture, environment, psychology, medicine and the economy, suggests potential for top-down reforms as well as revolutionary possibilities to radically reshape a hegemonic order.



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