Populations, Pandemics, and Politics

by Martha LA Fineman

Image via Pixabay

The pandemic has created a series of practical and policy challenges for the entities and individuals deemed responsible for public health and welfare. The way in which those challenges have been approached reveals the assumptions that underlie the allocation of social welfare responsibility in a society. Of particular interest are the norms or standards and values governing the relationship between the individual and the state and its institutions. These norms historically reflect the distinction between what is considered appropriately of “public” concern and what is deemed primarily a “private” matter. This line between the public and the private serves to allocate responsibility, with private matters often being assign an individual or personal responsibility. Our understanding of the private also enhances the concept of individual rights as constituting necessary bulwarks against perceived inappropriate or invasive state action. At the same time, the construction of the private constrains notions of collective welfare and responsibility.

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