The University of Arizona

The Virocene Epoch: the vulnerability nexus of viruses, capitalism and racism

Jude L Fernando


COVID-19 has ushered in a new planetary epoch—the Virocene. In doing so, it has laid bare the limits of humanity's power over nature, exposing the vulnerability of 'normal' ways of living and their moral and pragmatic bankruptcy in coping with those vulnerabilities. 'Normal' is powerless against the virus and has not worked for a majority of the world's human and non-human population. Whatever new normal humanity fashions depends on the socio-ecological change set in motion by mutations between human and non-human species. The outcomes of society's responses to the pandemic depend on how human agency, as an embodiment of social, ecological, and metaphysical relations, transforms the relations now shaped by capitalism and racism—the two mutually reinforcing processes at the root of the Virocene's social and ecological vulnerabilities. A deeper understanding of vulnerabilities is necessary to avoid recreating a 'new normal' that normalizes the current oppressive and vulnerable social order, while inhibiting our ability to transform the world. At the same time, the sweeping possibilities of alternative ways of organizing humanity's mutual wellbeing and nature lie at our fingertips. The emancipatory political consciousness, rationalities, and strategies inherent in such intuitively sensible and counter-hegemonic approaches, first and foremost, are matters of justice, embodied in the power that shapes human-nature metabolism. The Virocene is thus a battleground for social and ecological justice. To be effective partners in these struggles for justice, political ecology needs a universal perspective of social and ecological justice that functions both as a form of critical inquiry—that is, as a way to understand how social and ecological inequalities and justices arise and function—and as a form of critical praxis—that is, as a way to reclaim and transform capitalism and racism's power in valuing and organizing social and ecological wellbeing.

Key Words: Virocene; political economy of health; capitalism; racism, vulnerability, pandemic

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