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Locating Locality in a Global Pandemic



Good news, everyone; vaccines are on the way! Yes, even for us Canadians, the most recent proclamation is that we will all be eligible before the end of the month.


As much as I've lamented the tendency to imagine the end of the pandemic as a 'return to normal,' I sympathize with the enthusiastic rush to put the COVID news cycle behind us. With momentum moving in that direction, then, I think it is as good a time as any to put some cumulative and relatively final thoughts to page.


By most accounts, this past year has been incredibly global. By definition, a pandemic is characterized by transmission and spread across regions and between countries. Border closures and other such lock-down measures have similarly illustrated (often by their consequences) the degree to which economics, culture, and relationship increasing imbue traditional divides with a rather porous quality.


Yet I cannot help but feel as though this pandemic has also been tremendously local. It has redirected our attention to local business and local connection - those in our vicinity who have been inundated by distancing and isolation. While box stores and online retailers have thrived, COVID has put the fragility of the local on full display.


More than that, the pandemic has shed light on what might be called our own, embodied locality. It has reminded us all that, while we might live incredibly transient lives, facilitated as we are by new technologies and blankets of connectivity, we continue to exist at the intersection of sociality and materiality. To put it simply, COVID has reemphasized the degree to which we are unavoidably bodies, existing in co-constitutive relationships with complex ecosystems and technologies.


We have gone a long way to remove ourselves from this embodied experience. Factory farming, to use an example often-discussed over the last twelve months, reflects the degree to which the archetypal Human is so often imagined as exercising its will over a passive and receptive ecology from the safety of a transcendental and rational beyond. As the origins of COVID would seem to suggest, however, this self-excavation from what we might clumsily call nature is compromised. There is leakage and codependency between that which has been welcomed in and that which we have attempted to expel.


When it comes to our psychological well-being, the pandemic has likewise reminded many of us of our local dependencies (or, should I say, interdependencies?). Simple things like family holidays, cafe conversations, or even walks outside have become withheld encouragements whose importance we have come to see more clearly in a year without them.


With the future fast approaching, I wonder what lessons we might carry forward with this locality in mind. We already know, for example, that the risk of future pandemics will remain high without significant alterations to our agricultural and environmental policies. Now more than ever, the precariousness of local business in an era of monopolization seems similarly difficult to ignore.


As old doors are unlocked for the first time in months, then, will we approach the relationships and environments around us any differently than we did before?


As the global world fades back into view, what might it look like if we tried our best to be just a little more local?

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