Kandida Purnell By: Kandida Purnell
Assistant Professor of International Relations
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03 May 2020 : 'Calm the fuck down'

Walking around the place I live (a commuter town in Surrey, England) I'm being laughed at and told to 'calm the fuck down' (amongst other things) for expecting and asking people to social distance. Confrontations are happening on a more than daily basis - because I won’t let people invade my 2 meter protective space without a fight - and it's wearing me down.

Some observations to date: the culprits are always runners or cyclists and are always clad in lycra. Indeed, they are very 'into' it, absolutely determined to carry on and extremely reluctant to slow down or deviate from their course by a millimetre (let alone 2 meters) - even when I make it obvious that I am distressed as they approach. However I do this only if there is nowhere to move out of the way to. Sometimes I try to 'test' them, making it into a game of ‘chicken’ as we head straight for one another, but I know really that it’ll be me who makes way for them in the end. They won't bend. They are always white (but so is almost everybody around here - except for the Uber and Amazon delivery drivers, but they don’t live here). They always speak and shout at me ‘properly’ (they have middle class English accents, like around half of the people in this town). About 8/10 times they are men, and I recognise all of them, in fact I'd know them anywhere. These are a very particular kind of people and I used to encounter and be pressed up against them on commuter trains into and out of London. Not everyday thankfully as my job and lifestyle have allowed more flexibility in recent years, but enough! They are the usually man-spreaders and man-splainers. They are the loud work callers in the quiet coach and throughout this pandemic their flouting of social distancing guidelines has been absolutely flagrant. These rule-following, calorie counting, personal best tracking, neo-Liberal subjects are now openly rebellious. They cycle and jog alongside one another in pairs and packs daily - seemingly using this time to ‘train'.. for something. Sometimes I overhear snippets of their conversations as they hurtle past me. They're often multi-tasking - chatting about work using corporate vocabulary that I thankfully can’t fully comprehend. However I do try to understand them and their risky behaviour..

Maybe they have private health care packages and so don't have to worry about being denied a ventilator by the NHS? Maybe they’re obsessive/compulsive exercisers and very sadly 'can't' stop? Maybe due to their privilege no-one they know of has gotten ill and so they can't see what all the fuss is about and resent having even their hobbies disrupted by this? Also, I suppose being asked to stop in this way is absolutely contrary to the logic to unendingly produce, consume, and better 'develop' themselves and their things.  Of course I also remember that I am a social/political theorist and that it is my job to know and think and feel about this pandemic. Indeed, throughout my career I have made it my work to look and think and dwell on what has been kept outside of the lives and experiences of this particular demographic. I could have used this post to theorise further and discuss the gendered, raced, and classed (necro)politics of (in)visibility producing the behaviour I witness in this town but, as I said before, it's wearing me down. 

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