Identity in the age of COVID-19: the myth of ‘togetherness’
The COVID-19 pandemic represents what Marx (1867) calls ‘disturbances in the metabolic interaction’ between the subjective and objective as it sits at a vector connecting the zoological, sociological, historical and natural. Whilst a pathological phenomenon, COVID-19 has caused immense economic and political turmoil, disrupting global supply chains, trade and travel and subjecting entire circuits of capital and social formations to abrupt transformation. Social distancing, self-isolation and quarantine have become the new normal, restricting freedom of movement and other civil liberties with millions being confined to their homes. This is paired with corresponding systems of sanction, security as well as public surveillance of specific attitudes and behaviours.
In response to the global crisis, the state has looked inwardly to contain transmission of COVID-19 and prevent economic collapse. Within Australia, there has been discursive emphasis on a collective response based around the ideological signifier and abstract notion of ‘togetherness’. By appropriating, commodifying and re-interpellating social expressions of cohesion and silencing critique, the state has asserted a vision of a horizontal society.
However, Robert Reich’s (2020) discrete labour typologies and life-forms, the Remotes, Essentials, Unemployed and Forgotten, indicate society is fragmented and stratified according to the relations emerging from class struggle over production. The division of labour and unequal distribution of private-property has generated distinct meanings, experiences and challenges in relation to COVID-19. Through interpellating ‘togetherness’, the state has sought to obfuscate these inherent contradictions representing the supposed impacts of the pandemic as equal and unanimous.
This thesis adopts an Althusserian-Marxist methodological framework to demonstrate that ‘togetherness’, as an interpellating hail, is limited to the discursive and symbolic boundaries of the superstructure. It does not extend into the economic infrastructure. ‘Togetherness’ ensures the needs of capital continue to be met via the production of a new identity-formation technique guaranteeing reproduction of the conditions of capitalist exploitation in times of crisis.