For the Greater Good: Sacrificial Violence and the Coronavirus Pandemic

Anthony Ellis, Luke Telford, Anthony Lloyd, Daniel Briggs

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The Covid-19 pandemic has ushered in an unprecedented epoch of myriad sacrifice. Unseen since World War Two, restrictions have been placed upon our movement at various degrees of intensity since March 2020. Across the world, citizenries have been informed by states to sacrifice their cultural freedoms to protect the sacred – namely, healthcare systems and thereby help to preserve life, particularly the elderly. However, little scholarly attention has been given to the presence of sacrifice throughout the pandemic. Therefore, this article is structured into four core themes. The first section outlines the moral and ethical quandaries generated by the Covid-19 pandemic. The second section explores the theoretical work on violence, since contemporary sacrifice is intimately connected to the systemic violence inherent in neoliberal capitalist economies. Next, the paper explicates the role of sacrifice during the pandemic, particularly through the sacrifices made by ‘key workers’ like care workers and nurses, outlining how neoliberalism’s systemic violence meant they were met with tokenistic gestures including clapping rather than a fundamental improvement in their working conditions. As sacrifice has historically served to reinforce the social fabric, the article closes with a discussion on whether sacrifice during the pandemic is likely to achieve this, given neoliberalism’s tendency to post-social arrangements including radical individualism, emotivism, and competition.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-22
Number of pages22
JournalJournal of Contemporary Crime, Harm and Ethics
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 4 Oct 2021


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