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Why is the value of life not universally respected?

In an interview in the Frankfurter Allgemeine, NOMIS Awardee Didier Fassin shares his perspective on the pandemic, conspiracy theories, culture, crises and more. A translated excerpt of the article follows:

As with all epidemics, conspiracy narratives can now reveal much about power relations. A conversation about public health with physician and anthropologist Didier Fassin.

Didier Fassin is a medical doctor specialized in infectious diseases. He has worked as a physician in India and was active in public health in Tunisia. He later became a sociologist and anthropologist; at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, he holds the James D. Wolfensohn Professorship. But medicine and public health remained his research topics. He studied healing practices in Senegal, maternal mortality in Ecuador, lead poisoning in France, and the management of various epidemics.

Mr. Fassin, as a physician, sociologist and anthropologist, is life your life’s theme?

Yes, that is precisely why I made “life” the subject of the Adorno Lectures I was privileged to give in 2016. I wanted to focus on a great paradox of the present: on the one hand, the sanctity of life, in the singular, as an abstract principle, in both the religious and secular sense; on the other hand, the inequalities in the concrete handling of life in the plural, as revealed by the enormously different life prospects of people. In the United States, there is a 15-year difference between the life expectancy of black high school dropouts and that of university-educated whites; in France, there is a 13-year difference between the poorest and richest five percent. So we are a long way from true public health.

Continue reading the interview (in German): Warum wird der Wert des Lebens nicht überall gleich geachtet?

To translate the article into English, go to the article, right-click on the page and select “Translate to English.” Or, copy and paste the text into a translation tool such as DeepL or Google Translate.


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