Unconditional Love and Precarious Lives

Politicizing Love, Touch, and Care in Times of COVID-19

Anne-Marie D’Aoust’s _Essay will be published in this space in the fall of 2020. Until then, please see the abstract and check back soon for the full text.

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This essay builds on the extraordinary circumstances brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic to tease out some of the ways in which love has been played out politically in relation to migration. In Canada, as elsewhere in the world, the pandemic suddenly rendered visible the oft-invisible care work traditionally performed by women, and now increasingly so by women of color and asylum seekers. Building on queer theorist Sara Ahmed’s understanding of immigration policies as a form of “conditional love”, I investigate various processes of (de)politicization that occurred when love and care became politically mobilized in response to the health crisis. I use the “care-body-work” constellation as working points to tease out some disciplining and transformative possibilities brought about by love. After discussing Ahmed’ reflections on love and immigration, I then examine how the pandemic unexpectedly made visible, and sometimes challenged, the politics of touch, love and care between state-sanctioned hierarchized bodies. While so doing, I notably unpack the “guardian angel” metaphor which was mobilized to speak of those doing care work, and especially those working as continuing care assistants for the elderly – overwhelmingly asylum seekers and women of color here in Quebec. Running through the discussion lie lingering existential, political questions: who cares (in both the practical and emotional understandings of the term), and how do we care about each other – with what political consequences?