Centre for Research in Communication and Culture


12 March 2021

The discourse of protection and the orientation of post-pandemic politics

Presented By Dr Paolo Gerbaudo as part of the CRCC Seminar Series

About this event

Amid the Covid-19 emergency virtually every politician is talking of protection. From PPEs (personal protection equipments), to “support bubbles”, to the injunction “protect yourself and others”, the language of protection is paramount in contemporary political discourse. But the discourse of protection also encompasses other policy areas: social protection, protection against climate change, or protection from migrants and foreign powers, blamed for the virus, as voiced by the Right. Protection is making a comeback as a key demand due to the evidence of social fragility in our societies. The crisis has highlighted the sorry state of the social protection structure, the “social safety net”, and of key social support system such as public health and education with their role as buffers and stabilisers. Protection is a fundamental concept in political philosophy. For Plato the purpose of the city was protection, and for Hobbes protection was the very essence of government.  At a time societies when are faced with multiple threats (health crisis, economic crisis, ecological crisis) that put social reproduction into question, the demand for protection rings loud once again. We live in times when generalized fear and uncertainty have made neoliberal discourse obsolete, so that the politics of aspiration has been substituted by a “politics of desperation” and status loss anxiety. This leads to a re-orientation towards the societal essentials of security and safety over employment flexibility and professional mobility that lied at the core of the neoliberal rhetoric. The politics of protection of the nationalist and conservative Right is a kind of proprietarian protectionism which combines Darwinian possessive individualism with ethnic discrimination at home and trade protectionism abroad. The Left instead proposes a kind social protectivism where the promise of protection revolves around reinforcement of social support systems in health and welfare, housing, education, and the protection of the human habitat from the existential threat of climate change: a kind of eco-social democracy, if you will. The battle for hegemony in the post-pandemic era will depend on which of these narratives of protection is seen as more credible by the population.

Paolo Gerbaudo joined the Department of Digital Humanities at King’s College London in September 2012 taking a post of Lecturer in Digital Culture and Society. Previously he had been an Associate Lecturer in Journalism and Communication, at the Media Department at Middlesex University, and an Adjunct Professor of Sociology at the American University in Cairo (AUC). He holds a PhD in Media and Communications from Goldsmiths College, where he worked under the supervision of Professor Nick Couldry.

Paolo's research focuses on the transformation of politics in the digital era, in the context of social movements and political parties. His first book Tweets and the Streets: Social Media and Contemporary Activism (2012) critically assessed the impact of social media on the wave of movements of 2011 from the Arab Spring, to the Spanish 'indignados' and Occupy Wall Street, highlighting not only the potentials but also the risks of isolation and evanescence social media bring to the contemporary protest experience. His last book The Digital Party explores the transformation of political parties in the digital era, looking at new formations such as the Five Star Movement and Podemos. He is currently writing a book on the ideology of the populist era, focusing on notions of control and protection that lie at the heart of contemporary political discourse. His research methodology combines discourse analysis, qualitative interviews with organisers, and social media analysis.

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