On Xenophobia during the Pandemic – A Lacanian Perspective



The aim of this article is: (a) to argue that the UK governments’ authoritarian response to the COVID-19 pandemic is inciting a qualitative shift in discourse structures that are transforming xenophobia into a radically totalitarian force; and (b) to demonstrate that even ostensibly voluntarist libertarian discourse also creates conditions for the psyche that incite the same totalitarian xenophobic transformation. I use two approaches to the relation between authoritarianism and xenophobia in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic in the UK and the debates over the benefits and harms of ‘lockdowns’ (state-enforced, legally binding restrictions on social interaction to reduce infection transmission). First, I use Lacanian theory in a socio-cultural critique to explain the on-going shift, during the pandemic, towards an increasingly totalitarian psyche, that is intensifying and transforming xenophobia. The anti-democratic imposition of new laws induces agencies and civilians to over-zealously report and punish violators. I present xenophobic activities that are signs of a developing totalitarian psyche that over-represses and ultimately negates the humanity of the other and feels a duty to punish the ‘other’ as a moral good. Second, I use Lacanian discourse analysis to analyse an example of ostensibly libertarian anti-lockdown discourse. The analysis disorganises and disentangles the underlying non-sensical symbolic values and structure of words or signifiers. This reveals how these signifiers: (a) create discrete identities for social groups of ‘minority’ non-sensible others; who are (b) blamed as the cause of harm to the sensible ‘majority’; and (c) function socially to effectively demand that the ‘minority’ groups isolate themselves, as if voluntarily, and are to be isolated, actually and metaphorically, by the xenophobic ‘majority’. The apparently liberal democratic discourse is shown to be performative of a totalitarian system of mastery and xenophobic attitudes and behaviours.

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