Wayfinding with metaphors through crises
“The war on COVID-19” is a phrase that has been repeated across the media, seen on social networks, and heard by friends and strangers. For many, it’s been a way to explain the pandemic and how we’re collectively fighting against the virus.
However, for Athabasca University (AU) assistant professor in cultural studies Dr. Anita Girvan, there is more to this metaphor than just words. Her chapter “Wayfinding with Metaphors through Crises” in the new book Sick of the System explores how metaphor works in relation to the pandemic.
Sick of the System, is a collaborative book of essays between scholars, artists, activists who look at how the COVID-19 pandemic has exposed various cracks in the systems. Essays in the book examine poverty, health care, incarceration, basic income, policing, Indigenous communities, and more.
In “Wayfinding with Metaphors through Crises,” Girvan discusses how we use metaphors to make sense of the world and how we must critically examine the pros and cons of metaphors as they shift in different contexts. One drawback of the wartime metaphor, she said, is that in war, enemies are needed.
In the context of COVID-19, the ‘enemy agent’ discourse gets mobilized beyond the virus itself to particular racialized communities that have been targeted in prior epidemics. Asian and Asian-descended people who have experienced racism during the pandemic have powerfully made this racism visible through the viral hashtag JeNeSuisPasUnVirus (I’m not a virus).
“What I’m looking for in metaphors is how they’re mobilizing existing fractures and problems in society, and how we easily jump on board with them. We need to understand them critically,” she said.
For Girvan, metaphors are vital tools to understand the world but we need to think critically about what politics they can enable. Based on her research in the cultural politics of climate change, she also insists on the need to think of multiple issues (pandemic and climate change) simultaneously as we are finding our way through the crises we face.
To read Girvan’s chapter and the book Sick of the System, visit the publisher’s website. A portion of the proceeds from this book will be donated to the Migrant Rights Network, a cross-Canada alliance to combat racism and fight for migrant justice. It is a network of self-organized groups of refugees, migrants, and allies.