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The Dangerous Illusion that We Are All Equal Before the Pandemic

In his essay published on the Collège de France website, NOMIS Awardee Didier Fassin writes that, while we are all affected by the pandemic, we are not affected equally. The pandemic, he argues, both reveals and exacerbates the inequalities that undermine society, not only because of the consequences of the disease, but also because of the effects of the economic recession.

“The common perception that the coronavirus affects all of us without differences between men and women, young and old, rich and poor, urban and rural populations, white-collar and blue-collar workers, is certainly useful in encouraging everyone to comply with the necessary preventative measures, and to a certain degree it is understandable that the politicians who are in charge are using it as an argument. But it is profoundly wrong, and it is even a dangerous illusion, because it leads to ignorance and inertia where lucidity and action should take the upper hand. Using it may thus be a good tactic, but it is a poor strategy.

The fact that epidemics have unequal consequences across society is a well-known fact. Historians have shown it in the case of the 1830 cholera outbreak in Europe, epidemiologists have established it for the 1918 Spanish Influenza in Chicago and the AIDS epidemic in South Africa at the beginning of the twenty-first century; and I had noted it with regard to measles and smallpox when I was studying nineteenth-century parish registers in rural Ecuador. But for what concerns Covid-19, few countries have provided data so far.”

Continue reading the article (pdf)

Read the article in French: L’illusion dangereuse de l’égalité devant l’épidémie


NOMIS Researchers

James D. Wolfensohn Professor
École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales, Institute for Advanced Study
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