In exploring how a tiny virus has thrown the world into unprecedented crises, this paper calls attention to a particular aspect of the context of the pandemic, namely the relation between intensified population mobility and deepening inequality. Based on observations from China, I suggest that economic restructuring over the last decades has created a mobility-based economic and social order. This could have been a reason why the local government in Hubei, where the epidemic emerged, was reluctant in issuing early warnings, as any disruptions in economic circulation would have broad repercussions. At the same time as the intensification of mobility, the distribution of resources—economic opportunities, medical care facilities, and decision-making power—have become more concentrated to megacities and to the centre. The intersection between mobility and inequality contributes to the spread of virus and slows down decision making during the outbreak. But this condition also enables an “all-out war” style reaction, which is in turn extremely socially disruptive. Ironically, the corona-crises are likely to further intensify the mobility of low-income groups and worsen economic inequality.
About the Speaker
Biao Xiang is a Professor of Social Anthropology at the University of Oxford, specializing in migration and social changes in Asia. He is the author of Making Money from Making Order (forthcoming); Global “Body Shopping” (winner of 2008 Anthony Leeds Prize); Transcending Boundaries; Return: Nationalizing Transnational Mobility in Asia (lead editor) and numerous articles in both English and Chinese. A number of articles have been translated into Japanese, French, Korean, Spanish and Italian.