Study Shows Covid “Shaming” Distracted From UK Government Shortcomings

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Covid ‘shaming’ shifted focus from UK government failures, study says, according a Guardian news source.

Covid pandemic was a “cynical” tactic

Creating an environment in which individuals and marginalised groups were shamed during the Covid pandemic was a “cynical” tactic to steer attention away from the UK government’s errors, an academic study has concluded.

The research by medical humanities scholars at the University of Exeter said people from ethnic minority groups, those with medical conditions such as obesity and health professionals all suffered shame and stigma.

Formulating cohesive public health policies

They argue that by putting the onus on citizens to use their common sense and encouraging people to report rule-breakers rather than formulating cohesive public health policies the perfect conditions for shame to pervade were created.

“There has been a wilful political decision to create shame or to allow it to spread, as a means of shifting focus away from bad governance,” said Luna Dolezal, an associate professor in philosophy and medical humanities and one of three co-authors of the research.

“The uncomfortable conclusion that we draw is that shame has come to define significant elements of the pandemic, and rather than this emotion being experienced by everyone equally, it’s been directed at some of the most marginalised and vulnerable members of society.”

Dolezal said by singling out communities – and often ones without much power – a “government-sanctioned blame culture” was created. “This was at a time when we needed cohesion, not division,” she said.

Dolezal added that there was a long tradition of “curtain-twitching” in England. “That intensified during the lockdowns.” She said she thought the trend had abated. “But it could easily be reignited.”

UK Public Health

The book, Covid-19 and Shame: Political Emotions and Public Health in the UK, is being published by Bloomsbury on 9 February. It maps out how and why shame was experienced in England, from the first tweet to mention the term Covidiot on 26 February 2020 to the online shaming of Columbia Road flower market the following month when – legally – people continued to visit.

It recalls the first “local lockdown” in Leicestershire, which led to one resident describing feeling like a “Leicester leper” and in a chapter called “Coughing while Asian” discusses the “outpouring of racist hatred and abuse at individuals assumed to be Chinese” and the myth of a healthy western country “under siege from foreign diseases”.

The book highlights the case of a mother who was “named and shamed” on social media for not clapping for carers. “I was mortified,” the woman said. “The post said … I showed the street up and if I can’t spend a minute showing my appreciation I don’t deserve to use the NHS.”

The phenomenon of care workers being spat at and verbally abused, accused of being “killers” and “carriers of death” and nurses being told to hide their ID cards and disguise their uniforms on their way to and from work for fear of attack is studied.

Another group that was shamed, according to the researchers, were overweight people, who were depicted as more likely to become seriously ill and thus became “a selfish burden on straining health systems”.

The study highlighted one particular campaign that used shame. In January 2021 the UK government launched its “Can you look them in the eyes?” campaign aimed at citizens bending the rules and featuring Covid patients in oxygen masks and casting a “shaming gaze” towards the camera.

Good solid British common sense

In a chapter called “Good solid British common sense” the authors argued the UK government’s emphasis on common sense held members of the public accountable for the pandemic in ways that encouraged “deeply damaging patterns of judgment, shame and surveillance”.

Fred Cooper, another of the authors and an expert on shame and loneliness, said: “Unable to provide an intrinsically useful or agreed-upon code for effective public health or good pandemic citizenship, appeals to common sense served a cynical political purpose. They eroded trust in scientific expertise, flattered people who like to think that they have it, and created a shamed group.”

The research asserts: “Our uncomfortable conclusion is that shame has played a part in the pandemic which, rather than being detrimental to everyone, has been useful to some at the direct expense of the most marginalised and vulnerable.”

The book is based on research gathered through two projects: Scenes of Shame and Stigma in Covid-19, funded by the UKRI Arts and Humanities Research Council, and Shame and Medicine, funded by the Wellcome Trust.

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Source: The Guardian


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