Somatosphere’s COVID-19 Forum brings together seventeen anthropologists and historians in an effort to share ideas, analytical frameworks and concerns about the ongoing epidemic from interdisciplinary perspectives. Unlike the recent Ebola epidemic in West Africa, where anthropological intervention on the ground and direct engagement with affected communities and response teams flourished between 2014 and 2016, in the case of COVID-19, such activities remain virtually a political and practical impossibility, at least as far as China is concerned.
However, an analytical and critical engagement with the epidemic, both in China and across the globe, is still pertinent, not only so that ethnographic and historical context can be provided (and such context is indeed urgently needed in many cases), but also so that the wider social impact of the epidemic and of epidemic containment measures is understood, and critical tools are developed for engaging with the epidemic crisis in its complex social reality. The contributions to this Forum thus aim to examine the epidemic in itself, but also in comparison to other epidemics and epidemic-control processes. It is hoped that the Forum will foster interdisciplinary discussion and collaboration in response to the ongoing COVID-19 epidemic, and that it will inspire new critical and analytical approaches to the ways in which the new coronavirus epidemic is conceptualised, discussed, experienced and contained.