Virtual Lunchtime Workshop, Wednesday 27 May, 12-2pm

Why environment should matter for social workers: COVID-19 – a case study

Nations across the planet are currently gripped by the COVID-19 pandemic. The term ‘unprecedented’ has come to define this moment as economies are shuttered in an attempt to reduce the death toll of this disease; at the time of writing the number of recorded deaths is 259,496. COVID-19 has exposed the fault lines not just in human bodies but in social structures. The burden of labour and risk lies with those in work of low economic value; carers, retail staff and transport workers as well as NHS staff. This undoubtedly highlights social injustice.

However, there is a more fundamental concern that underlies this emergency. The COVID-19 pandemic has not just exposed inequalities in human structures but also in the human relationship with environment. SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19 cannot be seen with the human eye yet has exposed the myth of human exceptionalism. This is a zoonotic virus, one that has leapt between species, mostly likely a bat but this is yet unknown. It is forcing us to reconsider our relationship with environments that can both sustain and harm human life. The trajectory of its emergence traces the ways in which human lifestyles increase the likelihood of environmental challenges.

The COVID-19 pandemic makes it abundantly clear that the human relationship with environment is an issue for social work and social care, when the worst happens. This relationship is not new as the importance of ‘person in place’ motivated Jane Addams early social work. In this talk I will argue there is a need to return to this perspective albeit with a less human-centric understanding of ‘person’ and ‘place’.

Heather Lynch is a lecturer in social work at Glasgow Caledonian University UK. She has a PhD in Critical Disability Studies from the University of Dundee. Her research interests are in Italian biopolitical theory and environmental philosophy. She is co-editor of a special edition of the European Journal of Social Theory on ‘Affirmative Biopolitics’. She has written numerous journals articles and book chapters. Recent titles include ‘More-than-human community work’ (Post-Anthropocentric Social Work, Routledge, forthcoming), Gilles Deleuze at the point of encounter (The Routledge Handbook of Critical Pedagogies for Social Work, 2020), The politics of digital story telling (International Journal of Visual Methods) and ‘Esposito’s Affirmative Biopolitics in Multispecies Homes’ (EJST).

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