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Traversing Toronto in pandemic times

Traversing Toronto in pandemic times

From mid-March to late May, Professor Stefan Kipfer posted a series of short articles and photo essays on social media. Inspired by his daily walks and bicycle trips around Toronto, the images tried to make sense of the news about the coronavirus that started in December 2019 in Wuhan, China and became widespread around the world.

In a compilation titled The Naked City: Traversing Toronto in Pandemic Times, Kipfer lightly redacted, reorganized and annotated these reflections. In the process, he asked a few basic questions: how does the pandemic crisis unfold at the level of everyday life? How do the tensions of daily life translate into popular capacities to organize and mobilize? What do our daily rounds tell us about how to plan a different world?

“The premise of the following snapshots is that to understand the dangers and possibilities of the current situation, one needs to attend to the manifold tensions of everyday life. One way of unearthing these daily disjunctures is to follow Marshall Berman’s advice and read “the signs in the street,” says Kipfer. Further, “the daily interactions one can observe on its streets and in its workplaces show the realities and contradictions that permeate colonial-capitalist Canada,” he adds.

To illustrate, Toronto public health data show that the social relationships that are bundled in east downtown explain at least some of the differential rates by which residents have been exposed to COVID-19. These differential rates become visible on public health maps wherever race and class distinctions are clearly differentiated spatially, though not always. This is the case between the spaces of bourgeois Rosedale and gentrified Cabbagetown, where rates are very low to moderate, versus the social spaces inhabited by “essential workers,” the unemployed and their families in St. Jamestown and Moss Park, where rates are 2.5 to 8 times higher.

The multiple problems associated with the pandemic – discrimination, racialization, isolation, unemployment – have intensified the inequalities and injustices of  ‘normal’, pre-pandemic times. And yet, the crises accentuated by the pandemic also present opportunities for liberation, as the local street demonstrations to end anti-Black and anti-Indigenous police racism in May and June indicated. In the end, Kipfer concludes that “the link between everyday life and politics is never straightforward. It may sometimes be spontaneous but never automatic. Ultimately, it has to be organized.”

Kipfer’s research is focused on social theory and comparative urban politics in Europe, North America and various parts of the francophone world. Follow his writings in the Socialist Project.