On the reinforcement of inequalities during a pandemic lockdown

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In their timely new article “Privilege and burden of im‐/mobility governance” published in Gender, Work and Organization, Laura Dobusch from the Radboud University und Katharina Kreissl from the university of Salzburg analyze how the Austrian lockdown has reinforced social inequalities already in place. They argue that in order to contain the COVID‐19 pandemic, governments mainly focused on regulating mobility: certain mobility restrictions were enforced, while simultaneously some forms of mobility were maintained or even enhanced in order to keep the system running in crisis mode. With a special focus on Austria, they identify specific politics of im‐/mobilities concerning the organization of paid work and show how the socio‐spatial conditions of who is permitted, denied or urged to work are inextricably linked to inequalities.

For instance, people with lower paid jobs such as supermarket cashiers or care personnel – often women and migrant workers – were urged to go to work because of their ‘system relevance’ and thereby exposed to health hazards. On the other hand, people – disproportionately men without migration background – employed in better paid knowledge work and desk jobs could stay home and work from there.

It becomes apparent that while in principle all bodies are equally dependent on collective social relations and enduring infrastructure such as health care provision, food supply or public transport, not everybody contributes equally to their maintenance. In fact, the governance of im‐/mobilities follows and reinforces already prevalent inequality regimes based on class, gender and migration relations, thereby differentiating between bodies perceived as highly valuable and worth protecting and those categorized as less valued and potentially disposable. The authors emphasize that it’s not enough to acknowledge our collective interdependence, but that forms of (political) organizing are needed that reflect and acknowledge such interdependence on egalitarian terms from the start.

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