Anthropology under the eye of COVID-19

Reception: July 7, 2020

Acceptance: July 31, 2020

Conversations with Virginia García Acosta about the importance that history and anthropology should have for the planning of public policies implemented during the COVID-19 pandemic

In June 16, 2020, we had the opportunity to interview Virginia García Acosta, a renowned specialist in the study of risk and disasters. The main interest of the interview was to highlight the value that the contributions of history and anthropology have had and can have in understanding the social effects of the pandemic; but also to contribute visions necessary to design public policies from useful and urgent multidisciplinary perspectives to counteract the crisis caused by the

See winning photographs of the "COVID-19 under the lens" contest

Dr. García Acosta has a broad and recognized career in the historical study of different catastrophic events, mainly associated with "natural" and "biological" threats that at other times and in different places have generated risks and social crises similar to what we experience today. with the pandemic of covid-19. His studies have been mainly concentrated in Mexico and Latin America. Part of his personal and academic interest has been to explain and thereby seek to understand disasters (diseases, floods, hurricanes, climate change, earthquakes, tsunamis, etc.) as the materialization of socio-natural processes (social inequalities, social violence, for example ). For this, it has ventured into novel concepts as in vogue as that of the Anthropocene, which allow analyzing natural disasters not limited to biology, but taking into consideration other social and cultural elements that make socio-anthropologically differentiated populations more or less vulnerable and make up risk factors and crises generated by natural phenomena. These elements should be taken into account when making global decisions for heterogeneous and internally unequal populations in relation to access to health care and resources.

It is an unquestionable fact that the coronavirus has become a global threat in a globalized world and therefore with a greater probability of rapid spread and contagion. Until the time of the interview, neither vaccine nor guaranteed medicine was known to cure those affected by this disease. The measure adopted by the World Health Organization was resumed in Mexico declaring the closure of buildings and recommending the confinement of all the country's inhabitants at home. Reactions, effects and access to safety and health measures are strongly determined not only by the behavior of the virus, but fundamentally by the socio-structural conditions already mentioned. It is also indisputable that the pandemic affects all the inhabitants of planet earth, but anthropology shows that it does not affect everyone equally. This perspective has put the magnifying glass on the great inequities and systemic and structural fractures that our societies of the century suffer xxi and this made the central axis of the interview gravitate around which anthropological perspectives help us to understand and face these inequalities and which are the main vulnerability factors in the face of the catastrophe that should be taken into account.

“Women with young or school-age children have suffered it much more than others. […] They have had to become teachers ”(28:45).

During the interview, the different impacts that the same epidemiological policy can have on social segments so culturally diverse and so unequal in terms of economic, social and cultural resources were addressed. And they reflected on whether they should think about adapted and differentiated policies for the different social groups.

Among the different topics we discussed with Virginia was her reading or interpretation of the epidemic from an anthropological perspective, the way to rescue the problems and successes of the past (from the history of similar pandemics) to face other catastrophes and include them in the present, and fundamentally the wisdom of the historian to be able to weigh what is new about what we live today, what will go down in history, what will be lost in oblivion and what will remain as something memorable.

In this sense, we trust that the opinions and experience of Dr. García Acosta that emerged during the interview will provide very valuable points of view that we wish to share with our readers, and that we hope will be considered even in the interventions and public policies to be implemented. to mitigate the damage that this disaster will generate.

"There is no talk of an economic exit plan at all" (16:24).

Among the recent projects that he has coordinated we can mention:

  1. 2014-2015: “Disaster risk reduction, prevention and resilience in a global comparison”. ciesas - University of Brasília - School of Higher Studies in Social Sciences (Paris) - Rachel Carson Center of the Ludwig Maximilians University (Munich) (2014-2016).
  2. 2013-2015. “Enabling knowledge for disaster risk reduction in integration to climate change adaptation (know-4-drr)”. ciesas - Politecnico di Milano.
  3. 2012-2014. “Landfalling cyclones in the epac basin (Historical records of tropical cyclones in the North Pacific region of Mexico)”. ciesas, Center for Atmospheric Sciences of the unam, University of Colima and Inter American Institute for Global Change Research.

She is currently involved in two projects with European funding:

  • Climate, risk, catastrophe and crisis on both sides of the Atlantic during the Little Ice Age (University of Alicante-Ministry of Economy of the Government of Spain).
  • Les administrations publiques face aux risques naturels dans les monarchies bourboniennes (xviii-debut du xixe siècle (Casa de Velázquez, University of Alicante, University of Naples Federico ii, Maison des Sciences de l'Homme, Université Clermont-Auvergne).

He has many posts on this topic. We would only like to highlight the most recent:


2020“Disasters” (con E. Rohland), Rethinking the Americas: The Routledge Handbook to the Political Economy and Governance in the Americas, Nueva York: Routledge.

2019 “El pasado en la construcción del futuro. Reducción de riesgos de desastre y adaptación al cambio climático en la larga duración (longue durée)”, unam/Sorbonne Université.

2019 “Unnatural Disasters and the Anthropocene: Lessons Learnt from Anthropological and Historical Perspectives in Latin America”, Universidad de Calabria, Il Sileno Edizioni.

Published book

2020 The Anthropology of Disasters in Latin America. State of the Art, Londres/Nueva York: Routledge.

Book in press

Historia y memoria de los huracanes y otros episodios hidrometeorológicos en México. Janet. V. García-Acosta y R. Padilla (coord.), México: ciesas/Universidad de Colima.

Renée de la Torre Castellanos She is a doctor in Social Sciences with a specialty in Social Anthropology and a research professor at the Ciesas, Occidente unit, since 1993. Member of the National System of Researchers level III and Member of the Mexican Academy of Sciences. His research focuses on the study and understanding of contemporary religiosity, with special emphasis on its transformation. orcid: 0000-0003-3914-4805.

Olivia Teresa Ruiz Marrujo She has a PhD in Cultural Anthropology from the University of California, Berkeley. She is a professor and researcher at the Department of Cultural Studies at El Colegio de la Frontera Norte in Baja California. He works on international migration, border and identity issues. Among his recent publications are "Deportation and family separation on the San Diego-Tijuana border" (Cultural, 2017) and Minors or migrants? Risk and vulnerability in the migration of unaccompanied undocumented minors to the United States (El Colef, 2016). orcid: 0000-0003-3194-0946.

Virginia Garcia Acosta She has a degree and a master's degree in Social Anthropology from the Universidad Iberoamericana (1975, 1986) and a doctorate in History from the unam (1995), member of the sni level iii. She is the founder and active member of several international networks, among which are the network: Network of Social Studies in Disaster Prevention in Latin America, the British Network Risk, Hazards, Disasters and Cultures: Exploring an Integrated Humanities, Natural Sciences and Disaster Studies Approach Network (ahrc), the International Network for Interdisciplinary Studies on vulnerability, social construction of risk, and natural and biological hazards (conacyt) and the International Network of Seminars in Historical Studies on Disasters. orcid: 0000-0001-7398-5478.


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EncartesVol. 7, No. 13, March 2024-September 2024, is an open access digital academic journal published biannually by the Centro de Investigaciones y Estudios Superiores en Antropología Social, Calle Juárez, No. 87, Col. Tlalpan, C. P. 14000, México, D. F., Apdo. Postal 22-048, Tel. 54 87 35 70, Fax 56 55 55 76, El Colegio de la Frontera Norte, A. C.., Carretera Escénica Tijuana-Ensenada km 18.5, San Antonio del Mar, No. 22560, Tijuana, Baja California, Mexico, Tel. +52 (664) 631 6344, Instituto Tecnológico y de Estudios Superiores de Occidente, A.C., Periférico Sur Manuel Gómez Morin, No. 8585, Tlaquepaque, Jalisco, Tel. (33) 3669 3434, and El Colegio de San Luis, A. C., Parque de Macul, No. 155, Fracc. Colinas del Parque, San Luis Potosi, Mexico, Tel. (444) 811 01 01. Contact: Director of the journal: Ángela Renée de la Torre Castellanos. Hosted at Responsible for the last update of this issue: Arthur Temporal Ventura. Date last modified: March 25, 2024.