An Evental Pandemic: Thinking the COVID-19 ‘Event’ with Deleuze and Foucault

Hannah Richter, Jemima Repo

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As COVID-19 swept the world it also became the subject of a quickly growing body of theoretical scholarship aimed at understanding the social, political and economic implications of the ‘pandemic event’. Taking a step back, this paper draws on Deleuze and Foucault to interrogate whether, and in what way, the COVID-19 pandemic can and should in fact be understood as an event. We first offer a structured overview of existing ‘pandemic theory’ where we highlight that the productivity unfolded by the pandemic event is here either politically or ontologically fixed. Against this background, we show that, in distinct ways, Deleuze’s and Foucault’s concepts of the event caution against reifying a pandemic event. Any political force the pandemic can unfold is always made after the fact, and is contingent on what is (counter-)effectuated from the pandemic, or which discursive dispersions intersect with and unfold from it. The pandemic is evental rather than event – it is made up of events, and holds the potential to produce events. For critical theory, the significance of the pandemic event is thus in the first place methodological: it gives insight to how (post-)pandemic societies are produced, and where openings for the actualisation of alternatives might lie.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)220-237
Number of pages18
JournalDistinktion: Journal of Social Theory
Issue number2-3
Early online date13 Jul 2022
Publication statusPublished - 8 Dec 2022


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